The U.S. National Under-18 Team is 2-0-0-1 through three games at the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. It hasn’t been the prettiest start for the Americans despite the record, but Team USA is well-positioned to finish in the top half of Group A assuming it can get past Finland.
It is highly unlikely the U.S. will be able to surpass Russia for the top spot in Group A, but finishing second means the U.S. gets to keep its home locker room at the Bolshoy Ice Dome and get a more favorable match-up in the semis.
In the new tournament format, there is no bye to the semifinals, so there’s a little less value to winning the group stage than in previous years. There is value in finishing in the top half of the group, however.
Tuesday’s game against Finland is going to be a huge one for the Americans. It is likely the second-place game. That one will be available at 7:30 a.m. ET live on FASTHockey.com, too.
Coming up after the jump, a quick look at Team USA’s tournament today so far capsules for each game, a look at standout players to date for the U.S. and the tournament field.
A heart-breaking 4-3 opening night loss to host Russia in front of a large crowd that included Russian president Vladimir Putin was a tough way to start the tournament. Vladimir Tkachev scored with just under 2:00 to play and several good opportunities in the waning seconds were turned away. The U.S. had a good effort, but the execution lacked just enough to open the door for Russia.
USA Goals vs. Russia: Jack Eichel, Will Butcher, J.T. Compher
In Game 2, the U.S. met the Czech Republic, which turned out to be a lot closer than it probably should have been. Team USA essentially out-talented the Czechs in a 4-3 win, which was highlighted by a three-goal second period. Still, it wasn’t a complete effort and left plenty to work on.
USA Goals vs. Czech Rep.: Tyler Motte (2), J.T. Compher, Evan Allen
Team USA most recently trounced Latvia 7-1 on Sunday. The U.S. came out strong in the first, jumping out to a 4-0 lead, but failed to score in the second. Latvia scored its first goal in the tournament in the second to get the moral victory of the night, but the Americans came back with three goals in the third. Once again, however, it wasn’t a complete 60 minutes for the U.S., which has yet to play its best hockey in this tournament.
USA Goals vs. Latvia: Tyler Motte (2), Tyler Kelleher (2), Kevin Labanc, Evan Allen, Tommy Vanelli
The good news is so far that the U.S. has had the talent to outlast inferior opponents, but that will change against the more formidable opponents. Many of the teams in this tournament take advantage of miscues and can make the U.S. pay if they’re not careful. Finland will provide a key test for the Americans heading into the medal round.
Team USA Standouts
J.T. Compher — Team USA’s captain has been one of its best players in the tournament to date. He has five points in tournament play including two goals and three assists. He’s been reliable in all zones and has played with a certain tenacity that makes the game tougher for opponents. Both of his goals have come in key moments in the game, including a late tying goal against Russia, shorthanded, and another tying goal against the Czech Republic when momentum was swaying the wrong way. Compher has a terrific shot and isn’t afraid to let it go from anywhere. He’s also used his speed and strength well throughout the tournament.
Tyler Motte — A scoring error by the IIHF that has yet to be corrected incorrectly lists Motte with five points including three goals and two assists, but he actually has four goals and two assists and should be the team’s and tournament’s leading scorer with six points. That should get fixed. Either way, Motte has been a consistent offensive presence. Relentless with the puck on his stick and feistier without it, Motte has been a factor in every game. With four goals over his last two games, he’s also proving to be the go-to scorer his potential suggests he could be for Team USA. With good speed and athleticism, Motte has shown a great compete level in Sochi. His lack of size hasn’t been a factor in the least here.
Thatcher Demko — Team USA’s netminder’s numbers are deceiving in this tournament. He’s started all three games and has posted a 2.68 goals-against average and .887 save percentage. Those are hardly eye-popping numbers, but considering the goals that have been allowed, it’s hard to put the weight firmly on Demko. A huge problem for the U.S. in this tournament has been the number of odd-man breaks they’ve allowed, which at times has left Demko out to dry. The netminder has made a litany of big saves over the course of the tournament to ensure his team remains in the win column. He was probably at his best in a 21-save effort against Latvia, thwarting some quality chances throughout the game.
Steven Santini — Santini has been Team USA’s most reliable defender in this tournament. He’s currently leading the team at plus-6 and has averaged 18:53 of ice time through three games. At times Santini has actually been dominant. There’s a steadiness to Santini and he simplifies the game to make sure whatever play he makes is the right one. He certainly hasn’t been perfect in this tournament, but the other team has a real hard time scoring when he’s on the ice. He’s used his size and speed well and while he won’t be confused for an offensive defenseman, his puck moving has been notable. Santini just plays the game smart and that’s been a huge plus for the U.S.
Will Butcher — Team USA’s best offensive defenseman has four points in the tournament including a goal and three assists. Butcher also leads the club with 72 total shifts and an average of 19:07 on ice through three games. Butcher has shown good puck skills and terrific distribution ability throughout the tournament, which has helped in all zones. He’s a catalyst in transition and a threat in the offensive zone. Butcher is still prone to take some risks to the puck, but hasn’t made many costly mistakes. He has good instincts with the puck on his stick. Additionally, he’s been pretty sound defensively. He’s had several instances where he’s had some one-on-ones against and played almost all of them perfectly.
Gage Ausmus — A strong shut-down defenseman for Team USA, Ausmus has been overall pretty solid for Team USA. Often paired with Santini, opposing teams have struggled when that duo is on the ice together. Ausmus has good physical strength and has thrown his body around pretty well. He’s a solid puck-mover when he needs to be, but mostly he’s battled well in his own zone and has shown some really strong defensive instincts throughout.
Hudson Fasching — The big-bodied winger has done well for himself in this tournament. Fasching was the beneficiary of that scoring error on Tyler Motte’s goal, as it should read that Fasching has no goals and four assists as opposed to one goal and three assists. Nonetheless, the big man has shown good hands and some high-end vision, making great reads and feeds throughout. Some of the plays he has made to get to the net in this tournament have been remarkable as well. Fasching is making things difficult for opposing defensemen with his combination of size and skill. He’s acquitted himself very well in Sochi.
Mike McCarron — The 6-5 forward has been tremendous for the most part. He uses his body well, but I still marvel at his skating and puck-moving ability. A guy that big shouldn’t move that well. He’s still not even close to a finished product, but he’s beginning to realize his potential. McCarron also may have been robbed of a goal through a scoring error on Sunday as he is currently listed with two assists. I fully expect his name to climb some draft charts quickly.
Team USA’s stats through three games are here.
Valeri Nichushkin — Russia — He’s only played one game so far, but Nichushkin showed some insane skills against Finland Saturday night. Fresh off the KHL final with Traktor, Nichushkin wasn’t ready to play against the U.S., but the 6-4, 203 forward is making a case to be in the first-overall discussion. He toyed with Finland at times and is only just getting warmed up.
Pavel Buchnevich — Russia — One of the best kept secrets of the 2013 NHL Draft class, Buchnevich is an elite forward with top-end scoring ability. He scored a huge goal against Team USA on a one-timer that looked just like they draw it up in the NHL. Without the Russian factor, there’s a good chance Buchnevich would be a top-15 pick. He’s averaged 21 minutes a game through two for Russia. He has good size, speed and the puck skills are off the charts. I’m sure there’s an NHL team that’s going to forget about the Russian factor and take a chance here.
Ivan Barbashev — Russia — Not draft eligible until 2014 as a late 1995 birthdate, Barbashev has been outstanding for Russia and serves as an alternate captain. He scored twice against Finland and was a continual threat against the U.S. He has good size and strength, does well on draws and certainly gets back to help out in his own end. The skill level is there for him to take his game to another level, but he’s already quite the talent.
Jakub Vrana — Czech Republic — Because he is a 1996 birth year, he’s not getting the ice time a player of his skill probably deserves, but the Czechs like to bring their younger guys along a bit more slowly. Unquestionably, he is the Czech Republic’s most skilled forward in the tournament and he’s going to get a lot of attention in the next draft. Know this name.
Andre Burakowsky — Sweden — With four goals and an assist, Burakowsky has been terrific for Sweden. His draft stock has been on the decline of late, but he’s one of the top Swedes this year. If he keeps this up, perhaps his name will start moving up the charts.
Connor McDavid — Canada — So the hype is warranted. That’s clear. McDavid may be Canada’s best forward and he’s probably one of the five best players in the tournament overall. He has five points through two games with two goals and three assists. It’s hard to believe he’ll have to wait two more years to be drafted, but if he keeps his game moving forward, he’s going to be an NHL superstar. He’s a lot of fun to watch.
Complete list of U18 Worlds scoring leaders is here.
Team USA is off Monday, so I’m headed to watch some of Canada-Switzerland today and will share some thoughts on both squads at a later date. I’ve only been able to watch games on the Group A side yet, with a few exhibitions mixed in, so it’ll be good to get a better handle on Group B today.
Don’t forget, you can follow every Team USA game live on FASTHockey.com. Team USA takes on Finland at 7:30 a.m. ET (3:30 p.m. in Sochi). We’ll have the pregame starting around 7:15, so check it out here.