U18WMC: USA-Canada II — Semifinal Preview

Sequels. They aren’t always great, but every once in a while, the second is better than the first and that’s exactly what USA-Canada II should be. The two teams will square off for the second time at the 2012 IIHF World Men’s Under-18 Championship, this time with higher stakes.

USA vs. Canada II (Photo: HHOF/IIHF Images on Ice)

After defeating Russia, 4-2, in the quarterfinals, Canada earned the right to a rematch with the U.S. in the semis. Winner goes to the gold medal game and will meet either Sweden or Finland Sunday.

The U.S. is in search of its fourth consecutive gold medal, while Canada is attempting to win its first medal since 2008, when it took gold.

The two countries squared off in last year’s semi as well, with the U.S. coming out on top after a Tyler Biggs OT winner.

The USA-Canada semifinal will air live on FASTHockey.com. Coverage begins slightly before 1 p.m. EDT. You won’t want to miss it.

Coming up after the jump, a complete preview for today’s semifinal match-up between the U.S. and Canada.

The Rivalry

This doesn’t require much explanation or analysis. These teams, having already played, have become quite familiar with one another. There isn’t a lot of love lost between the two squads.

There will be a lot of hitting and a lot of chatter on the ice. Each team will try to be the more physical, but if its anything like Team USA’s 5-3 prelim-round win, it’s going to be a pretty evenly-matched physical battle.

When the stakes are this high, the rivalry should become secondary. The only thing that should matter to both teams is getting the win and putting themselves in a position to win a gold medal.

The Match-ups

On paper, these two clubs are pretty evenly matched.

Canada, with 21 goals overall at the tournament, is the only team to have scored on the U.S. The Canadians are second in scoring efficiency in the tournament, posting goals on 12.2 percent of the shots they take. The U.S. meanwhile has the best goaltending at the tournament with Collin Olson (three starts) and Jared Rutledge (one) combining for a .964 save percentage and 0.75 goals-against average.

Canada boasts the top two scorers in the tournament in Matt Dumba and Kerby Rychel. Dumba leads all defensemen and the tournament overall with nine points, including a tournament-best five goals. Rychel has five goals and eight points.

Team USA’s leading scorer is Matt Lane, who has six points (3g-3a). Seth Jones trails only Dumba in scoring by a defenseman with five points (3g-2a).

Canada netminder Matt Murray has posted a 2.61 goals-against average and .913 save percentage starting in all five games for Canada so far.

Collin Olson has gotten the starting nod three times for the U.S., posting a 1.00 goals-against average, which is tied for the tournament best and a .955 save percentage, which ranks second among all goaltenders. Olson also has two shutouts and is the only goaltender with more than one at the tournament.

Team USA has the No. 2 ranked power play at the tournament, operating at a 33 percent clip, while Canada is third with a 31 percent success rate. Canada is the most penalized team at the tournament (94 PIM), while Team USA is the least (42 PIM).

Special teams proved dramatically important in the previous USA-Canada game, with both teams netting a pair of power-play goals. Despite the U.S. PP operating at a slightly higher clip, Canada’s has been a threat all tournament, especially with Dumba on the point.

Staying out of penalty trouble, which the U.S. has been mostly good at, is going to be key. The U.S. has the tournament’s second-best penalty kill, having only allowed the two power-play goals to Canada. Canada ranks third on the PK, killing 85.7 percent of its penalties.

When two teams like these are so evenly matched, it comes down to a cliche, usually. Whoever wants it more is likely the team that comes out on top.

Both will be ready to play their game and the team that is able to establish its presence and dictate the pace of the game is likely the team that will win. It may even end up coming down to a bounce here or there.

It is difficult to beat a team twice in a row in a tournament like this, but that’s what Team USA will have to do to earn a shot at its fourth consecutive gold. Canada would love nothing more than to kill the streak. Should be a fun game to watch.

Players to Watch

Matt Dumba — Dumba has the inside track on the directorate award as the tournament’s best defenseman due to the number of points he’s been able to accrue. It is rare for a defenseman to lead the tournament in scoring at this late stage, but that’s where we are. Dumba’s five goals have all been huge ones for Canada. His speed and deadly-accurate shot are two tools that make him a deadly offensive weapon. He’s also not afraid to throw the body around.

Seth Jones — The U.S. is lucky to have a direct answer to Dumba in the form of Seth Jones. Team USA’s captain has been its best player at this tournament so far with five points and some of the staunchest defending I’ve seen at this tournament. Jones makes a lot of plays with his mind instead of his skills. He knows when to step up, when to poke check, when to make the pass or hold on. It’s rare that he makes a mistake or is caught out of position, and even if he does, he is able to recover with his long reach. Jones has been a force in all zones.

Kerby Rychel — Rychel received a 10-minute misconduct against the U.S. in the prelim game for checking from behind and without him in the lineup, Canada had a different complexion. Rychel is a big-bodied forward with good speed and an edge to his game. He has good touch around the net and is never afraid to get to those hard areas of the ice to win puck battles and establish a net-front presence. He’s been a goal machine for Canada as a result.

Matt Lane — Lane has arguably been Team USA’s most consistent forward. His speed and strength have made him awfully difficult to play against and makes him an offensive threat. With six points, he leads Team USA and has earned every one of those points with hard work and grit. Lane can get under opponents’ skin with his gritty play and frustrating speed.

Brendan Gaunce — The big, strong forward has good puck skills and is good on draws.  Gaunce, a likely high first-round pick in 2012 hasn’t really blown up yet in this tournament. He’s been relatively quiet with three points (2g-1a), but he can be a threat at all times. His good size and strength, to go along with solid puck skills and nose for the net make him a dangerous offensive player.

Jacob Trouba — Any time there is a physical game, you have to bet that Trouba will be one of the most physical players on the ice. Trouba plays a man’s game with his solid 6-2 frame. As long as he’s smart about picking his spots on when to level somebody, he’ll do well. He can also be an offensive threat with his heavy shot and strong skating ability.

Hunter Shinkaruk — After lighting up the WHL, Shinkaruk has been warming up since getting to the U18 Worlds as a late addition to Canada’s roster. With a goal and four assists, he’s been productive and seems to be hitting his stride. Though not draft eligible until 2013, he’s a bright spot for Canada.

Nic Kerdiles — It’s going to be Kerdiles’ time to shine tonight. Widely considered Team USA’s best overall forward at this tournament, in terms of pro potential, Kerdiles has to take a lead for the U.S. to have success against Canada. He is one of the biggest forwards on the team and will have to play like it. When he does, he’s tough to stop. Playing with Ryan Hartman and Danny O’Regan, Kerdiles’ line has always been one of Team USA’s most consistent offensive threats. They look to be clicking well right now, and should figure prominently in the game against Canada.

You won’t want to miss this incredible match-up between these heated rivals. With stakes as high as these, it doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to USA and Canada. You can catch it all on FASTHockey.com starting at 1 p.m. EDT.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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