The first game after cuts at the National Junior Evaluation Camp provided plenty of fireworks as the U.S. squad comprised of 22 of the 34 players remaining in camp defeated Finland 5-2 in Lake Placid.
It was a pretty spirited contest and even got a little chippy at times, which isn’t a bad thing to see. The competitiveness was certainly there even if the execution by and large wasn’t. It’s still August after all.
Wednesday’s game did offer a good glimpse of some really intriguing line combinations. It also showed what roles some players could fit into, even with some set power-play units for much of the game.
The U.S. was able to shut down Finland for the most part, limiting quality scoring opportunities and out-working their opponents in a lot of cases. Team USA was the more physical team throughout the game, with both forwards and defensemen playing the body.
Offensively, the U.S. didn’t look as powerful as the 5-2 score would suggest. There were still some signs of off-season rust and sometimes the lack of familiarity with each other was plainly clear. While it wasn’t pretty, five goals is five goals. Scoring was a problem at the World Juniors in 2011. With the players USA Hockey will have its disposal, that shouldn’t be the case this time around.
Coming up after the jump, a brief scoring summary, Team USA’s lineup, PP units and notes on some of the more notable performances from Wednesday’s 5-2 win.
Five different players scored for Team USA.
Stefan Matteau kicked things off in the first period after Tyler Biggs’ rebound slipped between Steven Fogarty’s legs and right on the tape of the hard-charging Matteau who chipped the puck into a wide-open yet.
After Miro Aaltonen made it 1-1, Stefan Noesen made an awfully creative bank pass off the boards to spring Sean Kuraly down the left wing. Kuraly, 1-on-1 with a Finnish defenseman, attempted a spinning shot. When his attempt was thwarted, Kuraly calmly collected the loose puck, skated backwards to give himself a little extra space and fired a wrister over Richard Ullberg’s right shoulder and in.
Johnny Gaudreau made it 3-1 after accepting a slick feed from Shayne Gostisbehere at the offensive blue line. With a defenseman charging, Gaudreau took one stride and wired a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that found a way in.
Another Aaltonen goal, delivered off a terrific pass by Teuvo Teravainen, made it 3-2 in the second, but the third period belonged to Team USA.
Nic Kerdiles doubled the U.S. advantage after Tyler Biggs’ pass was redirected to the high slot. The out-of-position Ullberg had no chance as Kerdiles snapped the puck into the net. Just prior to his pass, Biggs showed his power-forward game by shaking off one check, skating past another and throwing the puck toward the net.
Stefan Noesen closed the scoring on a terrific individual effort, stripping a Finnish defenseman of the puck behind Finland’s net and charging to the front. From in tight, Noesen got a couple of whacks at it, putting the puck in on his second attempt. It wasn’t a pretty finish, but his goal was a result of hard work and not quitting on the play.
John Gibson started the game for Team USA, saved 12 of the 13 shots he faced in 35 minutes of action and looking his normal steady self. Coming on in relief, Garret Sparks stopped nine, giving up the other goal in 25 minutes of action.
Here’s a look at Team USA’s lines from today:
John Gaudreau – Alex Galchenyuk – J.T. Miller
Mario Lucia – Sean Kuraly – Stefan Noesen
Thomas Di Pauli – Cole Bardreau – Ryan Hartman
Stefan Matteau – Steven Fogarty – Tyler Biggs
Jake McCabe – Connor Murphy John Gibson
Shayne Gostisbehere – Andy Welinski Garret Sparks
Matt Grzelcyk – Garrett Haar
These are the power-play units Team USA used for most of today’s game:
PP1 – Gaudreau-Galchenyuk-Miller Grzelcyk-Gostisbehere
PP2 – Lucia-Kuraly-Noesen Welinksi-Skjei
Notable Performances for Team USA:
Nobody really played a perfect game, but there were plenty of guys that showed signs of what they could potentially do at the World Junior level.
Sean Kuraly — The camp’s leading goal scorer padded his lead with a fifth goal today. Coming into camp with relatively little international experience, Kuraly has thrived on the big sheet. His size and speed have overwhelmed some of his opponents and he’s obviously showing good finish. It is abundantly clear that Kuraly has taken his game to a new level and should be poised for a big freshman campaign at Miami. Even though today was not his best game of camp (even with the goal), Kuraly is looking like a World Junior lock at the very early stage. If he can keep this up past this summer event, it’s going to be good news for Team USA.
Tyler Biggs — The Maple Leafs top pick in 2011 had two assists today and looked good for much of the game. He’s still prone to make a few bad decisions with the puck here and there, but Biggs is proving he is more than just a big body. While knocked for his lack of puck skills, Biggs is compensating by using his body to protect the puck when he has it and using his strength to lean into shots and make some crisp passes. He doesn’t have a play-maker’s touch, but he knows how he needs to create. His line with Steven Fogarty and Stefan Matteau was Team USA’s most consistent against Finland.
Matt Grzelcyk — Despite a 5-9, 170 frame, Grzelcyk showed today that he can get the job done at both ends of the ice. He’s supremely confident with the puck on his stick and makes terrific decisions at both ends. He saw significant power play time today and worked really well with Shayne Gostisbehere at the point. In the defensive zone, Grzelcyk makes up for his lack of size with a good defensive stick and tenacity. He was engaged in board battles and even won a few. He’ll be in a perpetual battle for a roster spot, but he has made a good impression so far.
John Gaudreau — Relatively ineffective again at the start of the game, Gaudreau turned it up in the second half and looked like the guy that was a USHL Rookie of the Year and point-per-game freshman at BC. Showing that shiftiness, vision and general offensive creativity, Gaudreau was able to score a goal and nearly had a second if not for a highlight-reel save from Ullberg. Despite the lack of consistency so far, Gaudreau really hasn’t done anything for me to back off my stance of him being a certifiable lock for the final roster.
Jake McCabe — After struggling through a few of the games in camp, McCabe looked really settled in today. He was certainly keeping up with the pace of the game much better and was doing the little things right like he usually does. McCabe had a huge shot block and big hit on a pair of shifts in the second period. He showed elements of that shut-down style he can play well and even showed a few flashes of his still developing offensive game. It probably will take a very effective first half at Wisconsin for him to make it, but Finland was his best game yet.
Ryan Hartman — The 2013 Draft-eligible was really effective in his role with Team USA’s more defensive-minded line with Cole Bardreau and Thomas Di Pauli. Hartman was out to hit everything today and I think he probably did. Sometimes he can go a little overboard, but I thought he was effective in the physical game. He certainly plays bigger than his 5-11, 190 frame. Hartman also showed some good speed in puck pursuit and created a few opportunities offensively. He’s got a bit of a battle ahead of him to make the final team, but he’s proving he belongs in the conversation for a bottom-six role.
Shayne Gostisbehere — It was another excellent game for Gostisbehere. Having only been able to see him a few times while he’s tucked away at Union College, this camp is only further confirmation of his immense offensive upside. Gostisbehere was a natural on the power play and got himself involved in transition. He assisted Gaudreau’s goal off a nice rush. With each passing day, I’m beginning to believe Gostisbehere has an honest shot at making the final roster. He has introduced himself well to the USA Hockey folks in this camp.
Stefan Noesen — It was another good day for Noesen as he shows the ability to play both the physical game and contribute offense. He’s also showing signs of a little more creativity. His spinning feed off the boards to Kuraly was the absolute perfect play. It drew a defenseman to him, freeing up Kuraly for a rush. Then his blue-collar goal towards the end of the game showed his willingness to get his hands dirty. The versatility in his game is beginning to show through, and he and Kuraly have proven compatible in this small sample size.
Cole Bardreau — He might not have ended up on the scoresheet but the soon-to-be Cornell sophomore was really effective as the third-line center. He showed terrific speed and improved puck skills. He even threw his relatively small frame around, laying a few big hits. Bardreau has a real blue-collar work ethic to him. He plays the game at 100 miles an hour, which made him pretty fun to watch today. I think he’s still a long-shot for the team, but what he’s showing in camp should make Cornell fans pretty excited for what this guy is capable of. He’s also been fun to watch as he co-hosts Inside the World Junior Camp segments for USA Hockey with Blake Pietila. Kid might have a future in TV.
Steven Fogarty — I thought Fogarty did solid work centering Team USA’s most effective line with Tyler Biggs and Stefan Matteau. Fogarty is showing that he is adjusting to the pace of this camp and making better decisions with the puck. He can really skate, especially for a guy at his size, and is showing more and more elements that could help him earn a spot in a bottom-six role for Team USA.
Another combination of the 34 players remaining in camp will meet Sweden Thursday at 4 p.m. EDT. The game will be carried live on FASTHockey.com. Expect a brief preview Thursday afternoon and a full recap later Thursday night/Friday morning.
Until then, here’s what head coach Phil Housley had to say after Team USA’s 5-2 win over Finland.