It’s not where they want to be, but it’s where they are. The U.S. faces a game it never thought it’d be playing in, but Latvia awaits as a relegation-round opponent. A win today sets up a seventh-place game against Switzerland Wednesday, and guarantees the U.S. cannot be relegated to Division 1A.
Latvia has yet to win at the World Junior Championship, but as we’ve found in this tournament, no game can be taken for granted. Latvia has some good skill up front, that will at least keep the American defense honest.
Team USA has to be sharp against its Latvian opponent and skate away with a win and a chance to close out the tournament strong. With two games left to play, the U.S. has a chance to get back to .500 for the tournament. Despite missing the medal round, the U.S. can at least close out the tournament with some amount of pride.
Coming up after the jump, a look at the USA-Latvia matchup, a World Junior update and the latest on the U.S. National Under-17 Team at the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
Jack Campbell will get the start today, as reported by NHL.com’s Mike Morreale. It could be the swan song for the three-time World Junior goaltender. With one game to play, it might not be the worst idea to give John Gibson some time in goal, as he will likely be back for next year’s World Juniors. If this is the last game for Campbell, it’s a chance for him to go out a winner.
Apparently, the U.S. had a high-energy practice yesterday, that was full of speed and physicality. Hardly sounds like a team that will be going through the motions at 1 p.m. EST today.
Today’s Match Up
Latvia may have lost all four of its preliminary round games, but only two were out of control. A 9-4 loss to Sweden in the opener and a 14-0 laugher against Russia were the two real tough losses for the Latvians. However, a 3-1 loss to Slovakia, a team that made the medal round showed that Latvia can be a competitive club. They also lost 5-3 to fellow relegation-round club Switzerland.
Up front, Latvia has one point-per-game player, Nikita Jevpalov, who has a goal and three assists.
Latvia also has a pair of forwards that U.S. fans may be familiar with. Dubuque Fighting Saints star Zemgus Girgensons has posted a goal for his home country, while Shattuck-St. Mary’s forward Teodors Blugers, or Teddy Bluger as he’s known in the U.S., has an assist.
The goaltending hasn’t been very good for Latvia, so it’s important for Team USA to jump on the opponent early and keep the pressure on. The U.S. has run into three straight top-end goaltenders, so it is important to not give any confidence early. The U.S. has a chance to overcome its penchant for slow starts in this relegation-round contest.
World Junior Update
The quarterfinals concluded yesterday with Finland overcoming Slovakia, 8-5, and Russia surviving a scare at the hands of the Czech Republic with a 2-1 overtime win.
Finland will take on arch rival Sweden in the day’s first semifinal in Calgary. Then at 8 p.m. EST, Russia meets Canada for the rematch of the 2011 gold-medal game. Both semis should provide entertaining and compelling hockey.
World Under-17 Challenge Update
What an interesting day Monday was at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. The day began with all four semifinal spots up for grabs and took until the final games of the day to decide the seeding. There were a variety of scenarios that had to play out. In the end, the United States advanced to the semifinal and will meet Sweden today at 2 p.m. EST.
The U.S. National Under-17 Team new going into its game against Canada-Pacific was that they had to win. They also knew that if Russia defeated Canada-West, Team USA would have to win by at least two goals over Pacific. The only problem? Both games were at the same time. So neither team could be totally sure of its fate until the final buzzer sounded.
Well, the U.S. National Under-17 Team, which trailed 1-0 after one period, ended up defeating Canada-Pacific, 4-2. Russia defeated Canada-West, 6-3. Since the U.S. defeated the previously unbeaten Pacific by two goals, Pacific was eliminated via a complicated three-way-tie-breaker.
Because of the three-way tie, goal differential in games only including all of the tied teams was the deciding factor. Team USA was the only team with a plus-1 differential, having lost to Russia 3-2, and having the 4-2 win over Pacific. Russia was at an even differential with a 4-3 loss to pacific and 3-2 win over the U.S. Meanwhile, Pacific ended up at a minus-1 differential and was, therefore, elimintated. A really complicated way to get there, but the U.S. not only won the game, but the two-goal victory gave the Americans the No. 1 seed in Group B and a date with Sweden in the semis.
Evan Allen and Hudson Fasching each scored a pair in the win and Hunter Miska was good between the pipes, stopping 17 of 19 shots. J.T. Compher also added two assists to pad his team lead in points, which now sits at nine (3g-6a). He is second in the tournament, as well. Anthony Louis also has a pair of assists, but it was defenseman Will Butcher who was named U.S. Player of the Game, and based on his defensive play he was a huge key for his club.
The U.S. will meet Sweden, with the winner of that contest taking on either Canada-Ontario or Russia in the championship game.
You can watch all of the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge action live (and free) on FASTHockey.com.
A complete recap of both the USA-Latvia game at the World Juniors and the USA-Sweden semifinal at the World U17 Challenge will be up tomorrow on United States of Hockey.