2017 World Juniors: USA vs. Russia Semifinal Preview — Learning from the past

usaiihfrussiaFor the fourth straight World Junior Championship, Russia stands in the way of the U.S. on their road to a fourth gold medal. Team USA will hope that history does not repeat itself Wednesday as they take on their biggest European rival in the semifinal at 3 p.m. ET on NHL Network.

In each of the previous three World Juniors, Russia has ended the Americans’ golden dreams rather unceremoniously. In fact, no U.S. team has ever beaten Russia when the two have met in the medal round.

While it is a dubious history, this U.S. team has been thumbing its nose at long droughts and what the record books say. They ended a five-game skid against Russia in the preliminary round, handing the U.S. its first win over the Russians since 2008. They also beat Canada on New Year’s Eve for the first time since 1998. This coaching staff and these players have had the right approach when it comes to the past. They had nothing to do with those other years and can only focus on what they’re supposed to do.

One way the recent past has come up to bite them a little bit is that it has created the toughest possible route to the gold-medal game thanks to how the previous year’s seeding shook out. After playing Russia and Canada in the prelims, there’s a chance they’ll have to play both again for a shot at gold, depending on the results of the semifinals as Group A was far weaker than Group B.

Beating a team twice in the same tournament has proven next to impossible.

That is one of the challenges the U.S. faces today.

On top of that, the Americans got all they could handle out of a Swiss team that put a real scare into the U.S. in the quarterfinals. In the end, that scare may have been just what the U.S. needed after not really struggling much at all in the preliminary round.

Here’s what you need to know about Wednesday’s semifinal matchup with Russia…

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2017 World Juniors: USA beats Switzerland in tough quarterfinal; Greenway, Bracco, Parsons among standouts

usawjcSurvive and advance. At this point of the World Junior Championship, that’s all that matters. With heavy emphasis on survival, the U.S. will count themselves lucky to be advancing.

In a 3-2 win, the U.S. can’t be at all happy with the way it played amid an absolutely relentless Switzerland that controlled the second half of the game pretty handily. A third-period goal by Jordan Greenway scored 18 seconds after Switzerland had tied the game, proved to be the difference as the Americans advanced to a Wednesday semifinal date with Russia.

The game had started just fine as the U.S. got a pair of first-period goals to put Switzerland on its heels early. Jeremy Bracco finished a nice backdoor pass from Troy Terry to open the scoring on the power play before Luke Kunin doubled the lead with his first goal of the tournament.

From then on, it was the Nico Hischier show, with the U.S. falling into counter-punch mode over the last two periods. Hischier scored a pair on the power play and was the best player on the ice the entire game. It looked like Switzerland had taken control of the third period after Hischier scored his second goalie.

Then they gave the game right back to USA after an unfortunately-placed stick led to a tripping call. USA scored seven seconds into the power play thanks to Greenway’s excellent net-front play (see below) to make it 3-2.

Meanwhile, Tyler Parsons was excellent as the last line of defense, making several huge saves in the final four minutes of the game, none bigger than his glove-handed robbery of Hischier who was completely left alone in front. He finished the game with 19 saves, but the quality chances he faced were far greater than this U.S. team should have allowed.

Here are five takeaways from USA’s uneasy quarterfinal game.

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2017 World Juniors: USA vs. Switzerland Quarterfinal Preview — 4 things to know

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The U.S. won its group for the first time since the 2011 World Junior Championship after running through Pool B with a perfect 4-0-0-0 record. As a result, they’ll meet Switzerland who managed to narrowly make the playoff round thanks to a thrilling comeback overtime win over upstart Denmark.

Team USA and Switzerland are set to square off Monday at 5:30 p.m. ET on NHL Network. Should the U.S. win, they’ll face Russia in the semifinal for the second straight year on Wednesday.

No U.S. team has ever lost to Switzerland at the World Juniors, owning 20 wins in 22 all-time meetings, with a pair of ties in there. While the historical angle is nice, the U.S. will be much happier about how the team has seemingly improved with each passing game. Their style suggests that they should be able to contain Switzerland, but as has been proven in previous years, there are no guarantees in the World Juniors.

Here are a few things to know about Monday’s quarterfinal…

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2017 World Juniors: 5 takeaways from USA’s NYE win over Canada; Woll, Lindgren, Greenway among standouts

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The semi-annual New Year’s Eve nightmare is no more as Team USA earned a 3-1 win over Canada to win Group B and reverse a trend that has derailed some previous American teams at the World Juniors.

Team USA and Canada have met eight times since 1998 on New Year’s Eve, with the U.S. losing each of the last six meetings in what has become a marquee game for the World Juniors. Previous U.S. teams, some really good ones even, have been humbled in this game and it was very difficult for them to recover after losing such an emotional contest. That won’t be a problem for the 2017 squad as the U.S. won their group for the first time since the 2011 World Juniors.

Additionally, in the historical context department, this win helped the U.S. achieve something it had never done previously at the World Juniors. Coupled with last year’s win in the tournament opener over Canada, this is the first time in the history of the WJC that Team USA has beaten Canada in the preliminary round in consecutive years. The victories over Canada in the preliminary round have been so few and far between, this is a positive step for USA Hockey.

It’s also a big win for Bob Motzko and his staff, because I thought they game-planned for this one just about perfectly. The way Team USA defended and how they handled the emotional swings of this game comes with preparation. The players still had to execute, though, and they absolutely did. That was particularly true on special teams.

Team USA got goals from Colin White, Jordan Greenway and Jeremy Bracco, while Joe Woll made 25 saves in the win that ensures them first place in Group B. They’ll await the Switzerland, who finished fourth in Group A, in the quarterfinals. That game is slated for Monday and I believe it will end up being played at 5:30 p.m. ET in Toronto. Hoping for confirmation on that soon.

Here are the key takeaways from the win:

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2017 World Juniors: USA vs. Canada Preview; Can USA break losing trend on New Year’s Eve?

usaiihfcanIn a World Junior Championship that has seen its share of surprises, most probably expected the almost annual New Year’s Eve battle between the U.S. and Canada to come with plenty to play for. With each team coming into the showdown with a 3-0-0-0 record, the top seed in Group B is up for grabs at 3:30 p.m. ET on NHL Network.

With the way both these teams have played to date in this tournament and with how things have been shaking out in Group A, neither is probably overly concerned with seeding. That doesn’t change the fact that both desperately want to win this game. With no guarantee of meeting again, the urgency to get one over on a big rival is surely enticing. It also doesn’t hurt to send a message in this game in the event they do see each other again.

The emotions run so high in this series, but it has only been more recently where the rivalry grew some teeth. Historically, there wasn’t much of a rivalry because the U.S. didn’t have enough talent to compete. That changed in 2004 with USA beating Canada for gold and has been more of a roller coaster ever since.

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2017 World Juniors: 5 takeaways from USA’s 3-2 win over Russia; Parsons, Terry, Keller come up big

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Too much can be made of history in a tournament where the players change almost every year, but the U.S. National Junior Team got a big monkey off USA Hockey’s back with a 3-2 win over Russia. The preliminary-round victory elevated the U.S. to a 3-0-0-0 record and ended a five-game losing streak to Russia that dates back to 2008.

There are so many different things that made this one of the better U.S. victories in recent years at the WJC, but chief among them was the fact that Team USA got contributions from everywhere. On top of that, they were playing a team on a full day’s rest after having to play a game of their own the night before. Tournament schedulers try to avoid that whenever they can, but the U.S. took the challenge head on and put forth their best overall game of the tournament so far.

Goals from Clayton Keller, Colin White and Troy Terry in front of a superb effort by goalie Tyler Parsons propelled the U.S. to the win.

They’ll get a day off before what should be a huge game against rival Canada on New Year’s Eve. Assuming Canada beats Latvia (they will, of course), that Saturday afternoon tilt will be for first place in Group B. Team USA can finish no lower than second place.

So let’s take a deeper look at Team USA’s big 3-2 win over Russia with five key takeaways, stats, highlights and standout performers:

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2017 World Juniors: USA vs. Russia preview; what we should expect to learn

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The U.S. National Junior Team has started the World Junior Championship off right with a pair of wins. That was to be expected with Latvia and Slovakia offering the least resistance to start the tournament. Now the Americans face their toughest test, with an even bigger one looming Saturday.

Team USA meets Russia Thursday (3:30 p.m., NHL Network) in a preliminary-round game that at least has major seeding implications. A win for the U.S. means they can finish no lower in second in Group B regardless of the result against Canada on New Year’s Eve.

More than that, however, Thursday’s game is a chance for this U.S. squad to prove itself against a team that has been one of the most consistent medal threats at the World Juniors. Six straight medals for Russia, with four of them under current head coach Valeri Bragin, shows that they know how to win in this tournament, even if only one of those medals is gold. There’s a lot more than luck going into Russia’s frequent trips to the semifinals.

Russia has been a thorn in the Americans’ side in this tournament for decades, too, but particularly so over the last few years as Team USA enters this contest on a five-game losing streak. Records in previous years may not matter with the high rate of turnover when it comes to players. That said, each of the last three tournaments ending at the hands of Russia has not been by mistake and often feel a little too familiar.

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