Of the five teams USA Hockey sent into international tournaments last week, three won titles. So all-in-all, that’s a pretty solid week.
The U.S. Women’s National Team defeated Canada in a shootout to earn the 2011 Women’s Four Nations Cup in Nykoping, Sweden. The U.S. National Under-18 Team went 3-0-0-0 en route to the 2011 Under-18 Four Nations Cup. The U.S. National Under-17 Team dominated the competition going 3-0-0-0 to win the 2011 Under-17 Four Nations Cup. The U.S. Junior Select Team got upset by Canada East in the semis at the World Junior A Challenge, but salvaged third place with a win over Sweden. Bringing up the rear was the U.S. Men’s Select Team that couldn’t manage a win in three tries at the Deutschland Cup.
Coming up after the jump, a quick recap and a few thoughts on each tournament…
U.S. Women’s National Team
While it may not get the national exposure, the Women’s Four Nations Cup is kind of a big deal.
It is the marquee event of the first international break in terms of importance. Since the national teams represent the highest level of women’s hockey, events like these are hugely important in preparation for World Championship and Olympic events.
The event features the four best women’s programs in the world in the United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland. While the U.S. and Canada are heads above the other two, it’s still an important measuring stick for Sweden and Finland.
At the end of the day, the championship always seems to include Team USA and Team Canada. Let’s face it. USA-Canada Women may be one of the best rivalries in hockey. That’s not hyperbole. It’s always these two battling it out for championships and both have undoubtedly helped the women’s game move forward in many ways. In fact, when these two met in the preliminary round, it was the 100th game between the United States and Canada in women’s hockey since 1990. That’s 100 games to build up a pretty healthy amount of hate.
So at this Four Nations Cup, the battle was as heated as always. The U.S. easily beat Sweden (8-0) and Finland (10-0) in the prelim round, but stumbled against Canada, losing the prelim match-up 3-1. Lucky for Team USA, unlike other Four Nations Cups, this one comes with a championship game between the teams with the two best records.
The U.S. got it’s revenge when it mattered most. Team USA dominated the first period, out-shooting Canada 23-7, but only managed one goal, scored by Kelli Stack. Canada bounced back with a Caroline Oullette tally with just 30 seconds to go in the second. Both squads notched two goals apiece in the third, setting up overtime.
After a scoreless 10-minute overtime in which U.S. netminder Jessie Vetter stopped all four shots she faced, the game had to be decided in a shootout. Once again, Vetter, perhaps the best female goaltender in the world right now, stood tall.
Stack scored on the first shot, but was answered immediately by Jayna Hefford. Next came Amanda Kessel (yes, Phil’s sister), who was unable to score. Vetter answered by stopping the next Canadian shooter. With Team USA’s last shot, Hilary Knight put the puck past Shannon Szabados, leaving the game on the stick of perhaps the greatest female hockey player ever to play, Hayley Wickenheiser. The legend was unable to score, giving Team USA the victory in the 101st meeting between USA and Canada.
Stack, who had a tournament-leading seven points was named the tournament’s best forward. Kacey Bellamy took home best defenseman honors and Vetter was named the tournament’s MVP.
U.S. National Under-18 Team
Team USA took on squads from Finland, Sweden and Switzerland in the first big international test for the National Team Development Program’s Under-18s, the 2011 Under-18 Four Nations Cup in Monthey, Switzerland.
The American squad full of highly-rated prospects for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft went undefeated in tournament play, but it wasn’t a walk in the park.
Nicolas Kerdiles led the tournament with five points, all goals. Defenseman Connor Carrick’s three points led all blueliners at the tourney.
A more detailed player recap will be coming in Wednesday’s American Prospect Update.
U.S. National Under-17 Team
For many of these players, it was their first time wearing the U.S. jersey against an international opponent. For some, it was even their first trip overseas. The U17s headed to Balishinkha, Russia, for the Under-17 Four Nations Cup featuring opponents from Russia, Switzerland and Slovakia.
It was an utterly dominating performance for the U.S. 1995-borns. Team USA outscored its opponents 19-5 in tournament play.
After getting their legs under them with a 6-2 exhibition win over Russia, Team USA proceeded to shutout Slovakia, 4-0, outscore Switzerland 10-5 and defeat Russia, 5-0 in the tournament’s final game.
Goaltender Hunter Miska, who had both of Team USA’s shutouts, was named the tournament’s best goaltender. Tyler Motte was named the tournament’s best forward.
More to come in Wednesday’s American Prospect Update.
U.S. Junior Select Team
Coming into the World Junior A Challenge as the three-time defending champion, the U.S. Junior Select Team, made up primarily of players from the USHL, had a target on its back.
After losing the first prelim-round game in stunning fashion to Sweden, the U.S. had a nice bounce-back game against Canada West. You can read my prelim-round recap here.
Because of the loss to Sweden, the U.S. would have to take a longer road to the title, which included a date with Russia in the quarterfinals. It was a test the U.S. easily handled, winning 6-3.
Then it was on to the semifinals, where Team USA would meet Canada-East, which was made up of players from the OJHL and CCHL. Despite handling East in a pre-tournament contest, 4-1, the U.S. couldn’t get its offense clicking as it had in the previous two games. Canada East skated away with a 4-2 victory, ending the U.S. title streak at the WJAC and setting up an All-Canada final.
Canada West, a team the U.S. dominated in the prelim round, earned the tournament title with a 4-2 victory over East. The U.S. and Canada West have each won the tournament three times now.
Team USA did show some resiliency and heart by coming back and beating Sweden, 4-0, in the third-place game. While it wasn’t the medal they wanted, it’s important that they came out with a win.
This loss particularly stings the USHL, as this tournament has become its annual play thing. A roster made up of some of the best prospects available in the USHL was unable to beat a team from what the USHL would likely consider inferior leagues. That’s a tough pill to swallow in the ongoing quest to attain a similar level of competition as the Canadian Hockey League.
The USHL lost some key recruiting battles to the BCHL this past offseason as well. If the top Junior league in the U.S. wants to have tangible proof that it’s more like the CHL than the CJHL, it can’t have results like this.
Granted, it’s simply one game in a tournament, but the optics of an All-Canada final featuring all CJHL players, with USHL players skating for a consolation prize, are not good.
Interestingly enough, Team USA’s leading goal scorer was Mario Lucia, who currently skates in the BCHL. Lucia was named to the tournament’s All-Star Team.
Other top performers for Team USA included Sean Kuraly, who tied for the tournament lead with six points (3-3). Vince Hinostroza was a workhorse for Team USA, and its third leading scorer with four points (1-3). Zane Gothberg played in both games against Sweden for the U.S. and put up a 0.50 GAA and .979 save percentage, allowing just one goal in 119:55 of action. Team USA’s other goaltender Ryan McKay finished the tournament with a 2.67 GAA and .908 save percentage.
More from this tournament in Wednesday’s American Prospect Update.
U.S. Men’s Select Team
USA Hockey’s team of American players currently playing professionally in Europe struggled in a tournament it typically has a good amount of success in, the Deutschland Cup, in Munich.
Team USA struggled offensively in the tournament, which I suppose is to be expected when you’re trying to get a bunch of guys to gel within a few days. Plus, there’s only three games to get it right. One misstep can cost you the tournament.
Team USA stumbled out of the gates against Slovakia, getting shut out 2-0. U.S. netminder John Curry did all he could to keep his club in the game, with 29 saves in the contest.
Next up, the U.S. showed signs of life against Switzerland in a hard-fought contest, but ended up falling in a shoot out.
Germany sent the U.S. home with a 3-1 loss to end the tournament, marking Team USA’s worst finish at the Deutschland Cup in its seventh appearance at the tournament.
Despite the loss, the tournament still has some significance for the U.S. When it comes to selecting the U.S. Men’s National Team for the IIHF World Championship, USA Hockey can’t always count on NHL players to be available or willing to go. That’s when it has to dip into the international pool and find guys from European clubs.
With so many former NHLers on this club, you would have thought they’d do better, but Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director, and essentially the GM for most national teams, got a good look at some of the top Americans playing abroad. He can either keep some guys on the short list or rule some guys out based on what they did at the Deutschland Cup. So there’s the big value in that tournament, despite the disappointing finish.
USA Hockey can look back on this November as an overall success, winning three of five tournaments and remaining in the mix in the other two.
The next international break comes around Christmas. Rumor has it, there’s some really big tournament happening around then in Canada featuring the top 10 Under-20 teams from around the world. I believe it’s called the World Junior Championship… or something like that. It sounds great.