Less than a week into the rescheduled U20 World Junior Championships at Rogers Place in Edmonton, things are starting to take shape. There’s only a few more preliminary games before the knockout stage.
After having no problem with Austria on Saturday, Team USA dominated large portions of Sunday night’s final game against Sweden. On goals from Brett Berard and two pair from Matt Coronato, that three-goal cushion was enough to hold off a strong push.
They hung on to defeat Sweden 3-2 Sunday night. If you watched closely, it wasn’t that close a game. After playing on fairly even terms during the first period which saw Berard get the only tally on the power play by stuffing home his own rebound past Jesper Wallstedt, the grittier Americans carried most of the play.
Following a closely fought opening period that saw them hold a 15-13 edge in shots, it was all Team USA in a lopsided second. They outshot a timid Sweden 15-3. Coronato increased the lead to two when he steered in a rebound of a Logan Cooley shoot that Wallstedt couldn’t control.
In fact, the second line stood out in USA’s fourth game of Group play. Cooley, Matt Knies and Coronato played extremely well. They created a lot of forecheck pressure and put together strong shifts down low.
The trio were involved in the first goal from Coronato. A simple play where Knies got the puck to Cooley for a sneaky shot from a sharp angle that Coronato potted for a 2-0 lead at 25:37.
There was also an extended shift where the five-man unit that included top pair Luke Hughes and Brock Faber had the Swedes pinned in for a long stretch. Sweden had a difficult time handling the physicality of Team USA. Their relentless pressure made a big difference.
Part of the strategy was to win loose pucks along the walls and crash the net. They made life difficult on Wallstedt, who delivered a good game in making 38 saves on 41 shots. When he sees the puck cleanly, the Wild prospect usually stops it. Getting traffic on a good goalie is always a smart tactic.
In the second period, Sweden hardly had the puck. Unlike the first when they had looks on American starter Kaidan Mbereko (28 saves on 30 shots), it was tough sledding. When they did attack, it was mostly one and done, or even none due to the stingy USA defense and Sweden’s inability to hit the net.
It was the aggressive puck pressure by Nate Leaman’s team that dictated play. The Providence College coach is back for his second year behind the American bench. Having guided Team USA to gold last year thanks to 2021 WJC heroes Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras and Arthur Kaliyev, Leaman is looking to make history by becoming the first American coach to go back-to-back in the prestigious tournament.
If last year’s group was more skilled, this one brings their hard hats to the ice. You see it during each shift. There’s no panic. Even when things got tight when Ake Stakkestad converted on a six-on-four with 1:15 left to suddenly cut it to 3-2, Leaman had full confidence in his players.
Sharks’ prospect Thomas Bordeleau took the key defensive face-offs and won them. He and Landon Slaggert both did a stellar job protecting the one-goal lead. The checking was solid enough to limit Sweden to a couple of long tries that never made it.
That kind of attention to detail is why USA ran the table to win Group B. They went a perfect 4-0-0 to advance to the knockout stage. They’ll play Czechia in the quarterfinals
later this week tomorrow night.
As it turned out, they needed one more Coronato goal to earn the 3-2 victory. On a sloppy turnover by Sweden that Cooley helped force, Slaggert pounced. He then dished across for a Coronato laser top shelf that made it 3-0 at 45:26 in the third period.
The game felt over. USA continued to dominate thanks to their tight checking and strong forecheck. But Wallstedt kept the deficit at three for his team.
On one of the rare instances where they won the battle, Oskar Magnusson and William Wallinder were able to set up Emil Andrae for a point shot through traffic that Mbereko had go off his glove and in to make it 3-1 with still 8:22 remaining. It was one he should’ve had. The goal gave Sweden life.
However, until Kaiser Wyatt fired the puck out for a delay of game minor with 1:48 left in regulation, it didn’t seem like Sweden would draw any closer. But that mishap allowed them to lift Wallstedt for an extra skater.
On another fluky play where he lost his goal stick, Mbereko made a good save on a tough Andrae shot. However, the loose puck was put in by Stakkestad, who beat USA captain Brock Faber to the spot to make things interesting.
That quickly, it was a one-goal game with 82 seconds remaining. Although they were able to get a couple of shots set up, a poised Mbereko shut the door. He closed up the five-hole and allowed no rebound on two scoring chances.
Another attempt was blocked. Some diligent checking from Bordeleau killed off the final seconds before Sweden could get a last shot. That kind of hard work allowed Team USA to come away with the well deserved win.
They’ll take on the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals. They are on Wednesday. With Canada doubling up Finland 6-3 on Monday night to win Group A, and Latvia pulling an upset over Slovakia, here are the match-ups:
Finland vs Germany
Sweden vs Latvia
Canada vs Switzerland
USA vs Czechia
Rangers prospect Brennan Othmann has had a good tournament for Canada. After being scratched for the first game, he’s been involved offensively and physically. In his second game this past weekend, he leveled Czech defenseman David Jiricek with a big hit. The above video highlights the clean check from the #FutureBlue.
What’s most encouraging is Othmann went from sitting out to becoming part of the big scoring line for Canada. Since putting up three points in his WJC debut in which he got moved up with leading scorer Mason McTavish and 17-year old phenom Connor Bedard, Othmann has been impressive.
In Monday’s 6-3 triumph over Finland to go undefeated and take Group A, he got the scoring started with a nice deflection of an Olen Zellweger point shot. It showed some grit. Othmann simply got in front and made a nice tip-in to beat Levi Merilainen. The goal was reviewed to make sure his stick touched the puck legally. It wasn’t in doubt.
While Othmann has been a bright spot among #FutureBlue with six points (2-4-6), it’s been a mixed bag for Will Cuylle. After a good start in which he tallied a goal and assisted on future teammate Othmann’s goal, he took an undisciplined kneeing major yesterday. It was a dangerous hit.
Cuylle became the third Rangers prospect to receive a match penalty and get tossed from a game in the tournament. He joined Jaroslav Chmelar (boarding major) and Adam Sykora (kneeing major) for a reckless play that could’ve caused serious injury. He’ll likely be out for tomorrow’s quarterfinal match against Switzerland.
That probably won’t matter. Like USA, Canada is too strong for the Swiss. They barely made the knockout stage by edging Austria 3-2 on Monday.
Latvia is the best story. Having never won a game in the U20 WJC, they shocked Czechia 5-2 over the weekend to make history. The huge win was highlighted by a hat trick by defenseman Ralfs Bergamanis.
They also got goals from Martins Lavis and Rainers Rullers. Bruno Bruveris made 33 saves on 35 shots to backstop Latvia to the memorable victory. That win eliminated Slovakia, who watched in shock in the arena.
What makes this tournament unique is seeing the reaction of the players after such a big win. It was awesome watching the excited Latvian players celebrate their country’s first ever victory. The smiles and them singing their national anthem is what it’s all about.
We all love a good underdog story. That was great. Congrats to Latvia on making the knockout stage. Even if it ends tomorrow against Sweden, those players and coaches will remember that forever.
As far as tournament MVP candidates, it’s Mason McTavish in the lead. The Ducks former ’21 first round pick is having an outstanding WJC. He leads all scorers with seven goals highlighted by a four-goal game.
McTavish is tops in scoring with 13 points (7-6-13). I can’t wait to see what he’ll do in Anaheim. They could be fun to watch with Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and the smart addition of Ryan Strome.
Both Joakim Kemell and Aatu Raty have had splendid showings for Finland. Each forward has three goals and six assists totaling nine points to tie for second behind McTavish. Kemell is a Nashville first round pick last month while Raty dropped to the middle of the second round for the Islanders. He looks like a steal.
Bedard has three goals and four assists for Canada as a 2023 Draft Eligibile. By now, everyone’s heard of him. He’s going to go first in next year’s draft. Only 5-9, 180, Bedard absolutely flies during shifts and has a lethal wrist shot. He’s also right-handed. Possessing elite skill and a quick release, he’s the next franchise player.
He doesn’t need much room to get off his shot. It’s very accurate. Bedard will be a scoring center who also can set up teammates. Think 50/50 for an early projection. That’s how impressive he is. The way the game is now, he won’t have a problem lighting it up at the show.
Although they don’t have the same kind of skill, Thomas Bordeleau, Carter Mazur and Matt Coronato have been standouts for Team USA. Bordeleau leads America with seven points (1-6-7) followed by both Mazur and Coronato, who each are 4-2-6.
Also boasting Devils top prospect Luke Hughes (1-5-6) and recent Coyotes first pick Logan Cooley (1-4-5), there’s a lot to like about USA’s chances. With role players Mackie Samoskevich, Berard and the overlooked Landon Slaggert providing energy, they have a very complete roster.
Led by captain Brock Faber, Team USA is one team who could challenge Canada if they were to meet for the gold. First, both must take care of business.
It all starts tomorrow. All games will be shown on NHL Network. See you there!
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