Despite a valiant comeback effort by the U.S. National Under-17 Team, Russia captured the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge title with a 7-4 victory. The score isn’t indicative of how the game played out, as a pair of late empty-netters for Russia make it sound worse than it really was.
Team USA was down 5-2 at one point in the third period, but stormed back with an offensive onslaught in the closing minutes of the final frame, getting it to 5-4 before Russia sealed it with the empty-netters.
It’s a disappointing end to a thrilling tournament, but the U.S. had to battle in several of its games and you can’t fault the effort. It was definitely there. Coming up after the jump, some thoughts on the game and players that stood out for Team USA.
The U.S. got the start they wanted in the game when Tyler Kelleher made a dazzling play to find space and sent a perfect pass to Evan Allen, who slammed the puck home at 8:38 of the first period. Team USA was all over the Russians for the first half of the first period, only allowing two shots in that time frame.
The Russians, however, stormed back and made some adjustments to get their high-octane offense clicking. Hunter Miska was rock solid in net for Team USA in the period, stopping all 10 shots he faced in the first.
The second period really belonged to Russia. The dynamic Sergei Tolchinski scored on a shorthanded breakaway to tie the game at 12:04 of the middle frame. Three minutes later Valeri Nichushkin got a good bounce as his shot went up and over Miska.
Will Butcher stopped the bleeding and atoned for an earlier turnover with a beautiful wrist shot from the top of the point, tying the game 2-2. The Russian attack was relentless, however, and was beginning to wear the Americans down.
It looked as though the U.S. had regained some of that momentum they lost earlier in the period, right up until one of the flukiest goals you’ll see. Nikita Cherepanov’s slap shot from just outside the U.S. blueline defelected off of a defenseman just inside the blue line and past Miska. Team USA, shockingly, was trailing with 2:24 to go in the period and that’s where it remained heading into the second intermission.
The U.S. had some struggles on the power play in the game, despite scoring two goals with the man advantage, Team USA also gave up two shorties. The second given up came when Tolchinski stole the puck in his own zone and split the D. He was slashed en route to the goal and a penalty shot was called. Tolchinski fired it past Miska from in tight on the ensuing penalty shot and it looked as though Russia had all the momentum.
Ivan Barbashev’s goal from the doorstep at 8:23 of the third looked as though it was sealed for Russia. However, the U.S., playing its seventh game in eight days and third consecutive “elimination” game found some energy.
J.T. Compher started the comeback with a brilliant wrister from the left faceoff circle on the power play with 5:15 remaining in regulation. With 2:04 to play, Tyler Kelleher won a faceoff clean to Anthony Louis, who found some space and wired a shot over the glove of Russia’s talented netminder, Nikita Serebryakov, making it a 5-4 contest.
With time dwindling, the U.S. found itself shorthanded when Steve Santini was whistled for a clear boarding penalty. The U.S. appeared as though it would have to finish regulation shorthanded, however Tyler Motte ended up drawing a penalty with 44 seconds remaining to even things up.
Miska was pulled and the U.S. came awfully close to finding the equalizer, but Nichushkin added an empty netter at 19:43 and Tolchinski added another for good measure with nine seconds to go.
It was a valiant effort, but it fell short and the U.S. found itself in second place after a hard-fought tournament.
Team USA Standouts:
John Hayden was named the player of the game against Russia, despite not showing up on the scoresheet. The American forward showed off a really solid two-way game, blocking shots, playing tough around the boards and providing a physical presence for Team USA.
J.T. Compher and Gage Ausmus were named to the tournament all-star team, both deserved selections. Compher finished the tournament with 11 points (4-7), while Ausmus provided solid defense and great support for Team USA’s transition game.
Compher is a hockey player’s hockey player. He kind of does it all. He’ll score goals, he’ll grind it out in the corners, he’ll back check fiercely. There’s a lot to like about his game, and then you remember he’s only 16 and still has more development ahead. I would not be surprised to see Compher earn a call-up to the U.S. National Under-18 Team and be a potential candidate for the World Under-18 Championship.
Anthony Louis plays the game hard. He’s only 5-6, 132, but the kid has some excellent skill and a fantastic work ethic. His offense will be what gets him noticed, but he showed a great motor last night, getting to loose pucks, creating plays through contact and just plain making things happen. His size may be a factor in where he goes in the future, but the way he plays makes me believe he’ll do enough to make people forget about his small stature.
Will Butcher is an excellent offensive defenseman. He plays a high-risk, high-reward style game, which can sometimes lead to turnovers, but he has a great shot from the point and moves the puck extremely well. Not only that, but he’s an elite-level skater. This is a guy to keep an eye on in the future. He led all defensemen with eight points in the tournament including a goal and seven assists.
Steven Santini, save for his ill-timed boarding penalty, really impressed me in the games I watched. He skates with speed and power and has a knack for helping out in the offensive zone. I thought he brought a good physical game, but his skating is what will stand out for me. As he continues to round out his game, he should shoot up the draft charts in 2013.
Tyler Kelleher can simply dazzle with his high-speed, high-skill game. He’s another little guy, but his vision and ability to make plays with speed is ahead of his years. The play he made to set up Allen’s goal was impressive.
Hudson Fasching proved in this tournament why he’s considered one of the best players in the age group. His tremendous size and strength really compliment his budding skill set. He finds ways to get to the net and make plays along the walls. He’ll continue to impress scouts and fans alike.
Evan Allen had himself a dynamite tournament. He led Team USA with six goals, all of them important ones and was as clutch as it comes. He showed speed and skill that I hadn’t seen in my previous viewing and obviously showed great finish. He was a standout on the scoresheet and on the ice.
Hunter Miska may have taken a pair of losses against the Russians, but he offered solid goaltending for much of the tournament. He continues to improve and could turn out to be a really solid tender as time goes on. It’s so hard to believe he’s only been a goalie for about four or five years now. For real.
Much of Team USA’s roster performed well in this tournament. The compete level was high and the skill level was certainly as good as I’ve seen at the Under-17 level. This is a team with a bright future ahead, but this will be a tough lesson to learn. It’s never easy to get to the final game and full just short.
It’s a tough lesson, but an important one. There’s still a second half of the season to be played and one more international tournament, the Vlad Dzurilla Under-18 Tournament in February, so Team USA has plenty of development time ahead.
This is an impressive group of young hockey players. The best is yet to come out of these guys.