Photo by: The Canadian Press
For those who have sacrificed sleep for the IIHF World Junior Championships being played in Ufa, Russia, they have seen a United States team evolving from very good to championship contenders right before their eyes. Wednesday morning, the US faced a Czech Republic team that eliminated the US last year in the quarterfinals. The Americans answered the call in a purely dominating fashion, dispatching the Czechs by a score of 7-0 to set up the highly anticipated rematch against their north-of-the-border rival Canadians.
This match up with Canada has a feel of the 1980 Olympics to it when the biggest game of the tournament wasn’t the gold medal game, but one of the semifinals when the US pulled off the "Miracle" against the Soviet Union.
Canada beat the Americans, 2-1 on December 30th, however the score did not reflect just how talented the Canadians are. The Canadians came roaring out and found themselves up 2-0 with five minutes remaining in the first period and from there, trusted in the play of goaltender Malcolm Subban (Boston Bruins prospect). Subban, who has found himself the subject of several non-believers, stopped 36 out of 37 shots.
The US came within one shot of tying the game when “Mr. Powerplay,” Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg Jets prospect) continued his scoring prowess with the man advantage. However, it was the undisciplined play of the Americans which was their undoing. In the last eight minutes of the game, Canada enjoyed back-to-back 5-on-3 power plays. Despite not being able to extend their lead in large part to the play of US goaltender, John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks prospect), they were able to eat away precious minutes.
In perhaps a small form of prophecy, Rocco Grimaldi (Florida Panthers prospect) stated after the game that the “forwards will get going eventually. We’ve just got to keep shooting on the puck and good things will happen.”
Good things indeed have happened for the US in their last two games leading up to this monumental matchup with the Canucks.
Most important is the contribution from players who don’t have feature videos being repeated by NHL Network 3-4 times a game (like Seth Jones and Alex Galchenyuk). Calgary Flames prospect Johnny Gaudreau (who has earned himself the nickname “Johnny Hockey” which is a play on Texas A&M’s quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel, known as “Johnny Football”) has continued to heat up as he added to his 2G-1A game against the Slovaks which put the US into the playoff round. Against the Czechs, Gaudreau had a hat trick, with all three goals coming on the power play. Trouba also continued to own the power play blue line as he had 3 of his 4 assists come on the man advantage.
Defenseman, Seth Jones (2013 draft eligible) also began to find the score sheet against the Czechs, adding four assists of his own. The performance Wednesday more than doubled his point total from 3 to 7.
If the US looks to advance to the gold medal game, they will need to find a way to shut down the two Ryan’s who beat them on Sunday, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Strome are in the top-7 in scoring for the tournament. However, as expected, the Canadians are deep and anyone at any given time can put the puck on net. Gibson has been masterful thus far during the tournament and has also been improving, but the US cannot expect to play for the ultimate title if they continue to expect their net minder to make 30+ stops.
This morning, Gibson got the support he deserved and was there for his team when needed. Tomorrow, he’ll be needed once again.