The Drive for Five is still alive as Team USA came from behind and bested Russia in a shootout to advance to the gold-medal game a the 2013 IIHF Men’s World Under-18 Championship.
Friday night’s contest between the U.S. and Russia was perhaps the craziest I’ve seen in the five years I’ve come to the World U18 Championship. It was certainly the most evenly-matched game I’ve seen yet and the fact that both these gifted teams made it all the way to the shootout shows how close it really was.
From the atmosphere in the building to the action on the ice, there just aren’t many games that could compare to the excitement of Friday night. It was a lot of fun to watch.
Coming up after the jump, a quick recap of the game and a look at some of the standout performances.
The Bolshoy Ice Dome can hold 12,000, but with ticket sales cut off around 7,000, it wasn’t full. It only sounded like it was. With Russian flags waving in large numbers and fans singing and chanting, it felt like a World Championship atmosphere. The game looked like a World Championship game. It was electric.
The U.S. struck first with a goal from Mike McCarron thanks to a persistent effort during a net-front scramble late in the first period. Russia scored twice in the second with goals from star players Pavel Buchnevich and Valeri Nichushkin to take a 2-1 lead heading into the third. An early third-period goal from Tommy Vannelli tied the game, but Russia was able to regain the lead as Vyacheslav Leshenko squeezed a puck inside the near post to make it 3-2.
The U.S. was 3:19 away from playing for bronze, but instead of being deflated by the somewhat soft goal Leshenko scored, the Americans were emboldened. Team USA created several chances in front, making it seem like something was bound to go in eventually.
With the U.S. pressing deep in the Russian zone, Hudson Fasching collected a puck at the side of the Russian net and winged it around on goaltender Igor Shestyorkin. Fasching took a couple of whacks, but couldn’t squeeze it through. The puck laid just in front of Shestyorkin’s out-stretched pad and uncovered. That’s when Anthony Louis, all 5-foot-6 of him fought his way to the front of the net and dived at the puck, shoving it under Shestyorkin and just over the goal line. Tie game with 2:05 to go.
It was one of those plays that was symbolic of the effort Team USA showed throughout the game and really over the last three games of the tournament. The U.S. was alive, but after regulation ended with both teams still tied, 10-minute, 4-on-4 overtime was going to test both teams’ endurance.
The U.S. generated several chances in OT, but a late power play for the Russians put the game in doubt. Will Butcher got called for a trip with 3:29 remaining and out came Russia’s immense talents in Buchnevich, Nichushkin and Vladimir Tkachev to attempt to get the game winner.
Team USA’s penalty kill, which had been excellent throughout the tournament, was at its best in OT. Tyler Motte, Steven Santini and Gage Ausmus spent the bulk of the time on ice. They blocked shots, got to loose pucks and made sure goaltender Thatcher Demko had plenty of help. Russia couldn’t score on the power play and neither team found the net before time expired in overtime to go to the dreaded shootout.
As good as Thatcher Demko had been for much of the game, getting into a shootout with Russia, with all their skill, it usually doesn’t matter who the goalie is. U.S. teams have also typically struggled in shootouts in international events. So the tension was certainly high.
Tyler Kelleher was Team USA’s first shooter. He looked as though he thought about going to the backhand, but when Shestyorkin took that shot away, Kelleher shifted to his forehand, catching the Russian goalie off guard and rifled the puck into the top-right corner from in close. 1-0 USA.
Sergei Tolchinsky, an offensive dynamo, was first to shoot for Russia. As he skated in, he started stickhandling quickly. He tried to get Demko moving, but the U.S. netminder stayed with him the whole way. As Tolchinsky switched to his forehand, Demko got his leg pad out and stuffed the Soo Greyhounds forward. 1-0 USA.
Anthony Louis was up next for the U.S. and had the puck take a hop off his stick to interrupt his stride and ended up putting a shot just wide on Shestyorkin. 1-0 USA.
Then it was Pavel Buchnevich. He scored on a beautiful shot for a power-play goal earlier in the game and had been a major threat throughout. He skated wide and as he cut to the net, he took his shot. Demko denied it again with the leg pad. 1-0 USA.
J.T. Compher had the game on his stick as Team USA’s third shooter. A goal here and Team USA survives and advances. The U.S. captain skated in with speed on Shestyorkin. As Compher reached the hash marks, he showed off his quick release, keeping it low and right inside the right post. 2-0 USA. Game over.
Compher’s celebration was one of relief and exuberance. He skated to center ice, dropped to one knee, grabbed his jersey and made sure everyone in the building saw the USA crest. He must have made it almost all the way to the boards on that knee before the mob of teammates met him.
Somehow, the U.S. found a way to win. Over the last two years, the 1995-born U.S. players had lost four times to Russia. Now they’re 1-4. It’s probably the happiest a team will ever be with a
.250 .200 winning percentage.
So the U.S. will play Canada Sunday for gold. You can expect a full preview on United States of Hockey soon.
Standouts for Team USA vs. Russia
The list for U.S. standout players could be about 20 players long, but I’ll highlight just a few for now. We’ll have recaps of each players’ tournament after it’s all over.
Steven Santini — Over the last three games, Santini has been one of, if not the best player on the ice for either team. He logged 31:45 on ice against the Russians, playing six minutes of a 10-minute overtime period. He made a few mistakes over the course of the game, including one egregious turnover, but beyond that, he can take a lot of ownership of this win. Despite the fact that he played over a half hour in the game, Santini almost never looked tired, and even when he did, he was still engaged. Breathing heavy as Russia got its overtime power play, Santini was blocking shots, getting sticks on pucks and not allowing Russia to ever get a quality chance. He’s been remarkable in this tournament and I know he’s slid down some draft rankings, but this kid is a first-round talent. Dominant at times, but always solid and steady. He looks and plays like a pro.
Gage Ausmus — Just like Santini, Ausmus was playing a lot and he was keeping everything in front of him. He dealt well with Russia’s overall skill level and was able to keep some of its best players outside. Ausmus has great physical strength and was able to knock a lot of forwards off the puck Friday. Additionally, he’s shown really good instincts and an ability to find the open ice when he has the puck. A lot of times in this tournament, it’s been up to the defense to make the zone exits for Team USA and Ausmus has proven to be strong in that regard. Ausmus played 28:45 Friday.
Tyler Motte — Motte’s work on the overtime penalty kill would have been enough to get him on here. He made several key shot blocks on Pavel Buchnevich that may have saved the game. He’s the leading scorer for the U.S. in the tournament, but it is his defensive work that has made him such a difference maker. The tenacity he brings to every shift is admirable to say the least.
J.T. Compher — Netting the shootout icer was a big moment for Compher, who has plenty of pressure on him as a returning player and the team’s captain. He also played more than 25 minutes throughout the game, including over four in the overtime period. Compher was solid on draws, relentless defensively and created several chances throughout the game. He had no points, but that hardly matters. Everything else he did helped Team USA win the game.
Mike McCarron — The big forward played like a man in the game against Russia. He was generating chances, throwing his body around, playing very aggressive hockey. He scored Team USA’s first goal of the game after staying with his shot. He had three or four cracks at the net getting his own rebound every time and finally one found its way through. He made good decisions with the puck and strong ones without it too.
Anthony Louis — His game-tying goal with 2:05 remaining in regulation will be one of the lasting memories of this tournament for me. It was a great effort from all three forwards on the ice for Team USA, but it was Louis who found a way to the net front to give that last shove of the puck. It was pure effort and that’s why Louis at 5-6, 140 might still find himself drafted in June. He has a lot of skill, but in that moment, Team USA needed him to be tough. He was and it payed off in a big way.
Shane Eiserman — As a fourth-liner, Eiserman hasn’t seen much ice in the tournament. In fact, he only saw about 4:55 of action over seven shifts. However, every time he stepped on the ice it seemed as though he was making things happen. He dangled through the Russian defense to generate Team USA’s best scoring chance of the second period. He played with speed an energy, which is exactly what the U.S. needed him to do in his limited role. It’s great when the depth of lineup can help out like that.
Hudson Fasching — It was another solid all-around game from the Minnesota commit. He should have gotten an assist on Louis’ goal, but didn’t unfortunately (the scorers in this tournament have been really poor, FYI). The biggest thing Fasching has done all tournament is create. He’s made scoring chances happen because he seems to have a knack down low in the offensive zone. Fasching can be shifty, but he combines that skill with his size to make him near impossible to knock off the puck. His second effort helped lead to Louis’ goal and it was a small sample of what he’s done all week.
Tommy Vannelli — The lone non-NTDP player really endeared himself to his teammates with his early third-period goal that made it a 2-2 game at that point. The puck ended up right on his tape as Tyler Kelleher mishandled it in the most fortunate way possible. Vannelli made it count with a low, hard shot that found the bottom-right corner of the gaping net. Additionally, he showed some of his better defensive work in the tournament on Friday. He skates extremely well and as soon as he adds some more muscle to his frame, Vannelli is going to be a terrific player.
Thatcher Demko — Demko was on it again Friday. He made some key saves early in the first period and ended up totaling 26 over the game. The third Russian goal was definitely one Demko should have had, but to his credit, he shook it off and his team gave him another chance. Anytime a goalie makes two saves in a shootout, it’s pretty impressive. When it’s against two of the most skilled players in this age group, it’s incredible. Two clean saves in the shootout on Sergei Tolchinsky and Pavel Buchnevich left the door wide open for J.T. Compher to seal it. The U.S. got the best from Demko when it needed it most.
Team USA meets Canada at noon ET Sunday. The game will be streamed live on FASTHockey.com, with a pre-game show beginning around 11:45 a.m. ET. Again, we’ll have a full preview of Team USA’s big gold-medal game match-up with Canada up soon right here at United States of Hockey.