In what was by far the most entertaining game of the tournament, the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team downed Canada 5-3 in the final preliminary round game. With the win, the U.S. finished group play a perfect 4-0-0-0 and earned the bye to the semifinals.
It was a physical contest between the two clubs, with neither team really gaining the edge. After a scoreless first period, the teams were knotted at 2-2 after the second. All of the goals in the period came on power plays as both teams were keeping things pretty contained five-on-five.
Then the U.S. turned it loose in the third period, scoring two at even strength just 1:29 apart, looking firmly in control. Canada’s Ryan Pulock took advantage of one of the few defensive breakdowns by Team USA to make it 4-3 with 4:54 to play.
The U.S. tightened it back up after the goal and held off the relentless Canadian attack, with Collin Olson making a few key stops in net. Matt Lane scored an empty-netter to seal the 5-3 win.
Coming up after the jump, a look at the goals scored and top performers for Team USA.
Just 2:05 after Canada took the 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Hunter Shinkaruk, Matt Grzelcyk answered back with a power-play tally of his own. After a nice job of side-stepping an oncoming forward at the blue line, Connor Carrick dished a perfect pass to Grzelcyk. With room to shoot, Grzelcyk let a rocket go, beating netminder Matt Murray on the far side.
With 1:10 remaining in the second period and USA trailing 2-1, Riley Barber knocked home a rebound of a Quentin Shore shot to tie things up and give the U.S. some momentum heading into the third period. Barber went hard to the net and stayed parked at the side of the cage. When Shore’s shot hit off the post and then Murray, Barber, under pressure, got his stick on the puck and tucked it just inside the right post, getting knocked down in the process.
In the third period, Seth Jones gave the U.S. its first lead of the game after collecting a Ryan Hartman feed and unleashing a heavy shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. Jones’ shot zipped over Murray’s right shoulder and fired up the U.S. bench. It was Jones’ third goal of the tournament.
Frankie Vatrano made it 4-2 after a hard forecheck by J.T. Compher knocked a puck loose to Matt Lane, who found a wide-open Vatrano in the high slot. Vatrano wasted no time, snapping the puck off the pass and past Murray for his second goal of the tournament.
Lane then potted the empty netter, with a low shot from just beyond the red line to seal the win.
Seth Jones — Jones was named Team USA’s player of the game for the second time in the tournament. His third-period goal was a major spark for the U.S., but he did most of his damage defensively. He had several key defensive stops on rushes and layed the game’s biggest hit when he leveled Mike Winther in open ice. With each passing game it just seems like Jones is getting better, if you can believe it. He has five points in the tournament with three goals and two assists, good for second on the team and second among all defensemen in the tournament.
Matt Lane — Lane got another two points on the night, but was a factor in a variety of other ways. His speed is incredibly tough for most teams to deal with, and he rarely, if ever, loses a puck battle along the boards. He isn’t necessarily big, but he is incredibly strong and uses that strength well. He had a penalty shot in the first period, in which he got robbed, but his speed and strength is what helped draw that penalty-shot opportunity. Lane now leads the U.S. with six points (3g-3a).
Brady Skjei — Sometimes overshadowed by Jones and Jacob Trouba, Skjei played an incredibly steady game against Canada. He played physically in all areas of the ice and provided sound defense. He also helped lead rushes out of the zone by making good, smart passes to the open forwards instead of trying to do it all himself with his strong skating. Skjei also dealt with Canada’s strong forecheck calmly, which prevented turnovers and allowed Team USA to hold off the attack.
Collin Olson — After posting shutouts in his first two starts, it was important to see how Olson would deal with adversity after giving up a goal and we got our answer. He handled it just fine. With 26 saves, Olson made some big ones after settling in a bit. He shook off the goals and made some key stops, halting rushes and covering the puck up to avoid second-chance opportunities. It was another good showing from the U.S. netminder, who has the second-best save percentage in the tournament at .955.
Jacob Trouba — When playing Canada, it is often tough to match their physicality. Trouba absolutely did. He had several big hits in the game, many of which resulted in breaking up a rush. He stepped up when many defenseman wouldn’t and made sure he made contact every time. Trouba was sound in his own end and made Canadian forwards think twice about going to the boards with him.
Danny O’Regan — O’Regan has proven to be a valuable commodity, particularly in the faceoff circle. Canada’s centermen were very good on draws, but O’Regan won nine of his 12 faceoffs. He was the only U.S. center with more than three faceoffs that finished in the plus, winning 75 percent of his draws. He, along with Nic Kerdiles and Ryan Hartman also did a great job of creating offense, despite none of the three scoring goals of their own.
The U.S. has the next two days off and will await the winner of the quarterfinal match up between Russia and Canada. That’s right, there could be a rematch of this final prelim game on Friday with much higher stakes. Whether its Russia or Canada, the U.S. will get a crack at one of its biggest rivals with a trip to the gold-medal game on the line. That always makes for great hockey.
We’ll have the game live on FASTHockey.com, Friday at 1 p.m. EDT, but you can also expect a preview right here on USofH after Thursday’s quarterfinals are wrapped up, so keep an eye out for that.