Before the ball dropped in New York City’s Times Square, the puck dropped in Alberta between two hockey powerhouses playing for big stakes. The United States and Sweden went toe-to-toe in the final game of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship preliminary round with quarterfinal positioning on the line.
And just before the clock hit midnight on the East Coast, Team USA skated away with a 4-0 win.
The Americans opened the scoring just 1:09 into the game as Drew Helleson fired the puck toward the net from the corner and below the goal line. Just over two minutes later it was Trevor Zegras with the goal from a weird angle as he fired it on net from the left half board and the puck sailed over the shoulder of Hugo Alnefelt. Team USA added two more goals in the second period, one by Ryan Johnson — his first of the tourney — off a beautiful set pay off a faceoff win deep in the Swedish zone and another by Alex Turcotte — also his first. That final goal chased Alnefelt from the net.
“It went great but I think it surprised us a little bit, I think it surprised us all,” said head coach Nate Leaman. “Got a bounce on that first one, and then Trevor just made a great play on that second goal and I think it surprised us a little bit. I think it rattled them a little bit and I thought we had a good first. But the second I thought we got a little loose. In the third period, we reeled it back in. . . . So that was a good win for us, it was a win that we needed and we found a way to get it done.”
“I think the start first was huge tonight. I thought it really got our whole group going,” noted team captain Cam York. “But at the end of the day, our focus is winning a gold medal. Today was a big step in that direction. But we’ve got to take it game by game . . . [and] the quick start was huge for us and we need to continue doing that down the stretch here.”
With his goal and helpers on both middle-frame tallies, Zegras is now tied for third all time on the USA’s World Juniors career points list with current NHLer James van Riemsdyk (22 points). His three points also give him 13 for the 2021 edition as he snagged the points lead from Canada’s Dylan Cozens.
“Obviously, I think I’m shooting the puck more,” Zegras said when asked to discuss what is different from last year, when he had nine assists. “I think I have a little more confidence in those areas. I’m playing with two great players in Arthur Kaliyev and Alex Turcotte; they’re putting me in some really good spots and I’m getting pretty lucky and putting them away.”
On the back end, Spencer Knight continues to roll between the pipes. After giving up four goals on 12 shots against Russia, Knight has now backstopped the U.S. to consecutive shutout wins — the first American goalie to accomplish the feat. He stopped 27 of 27 on New Year’s Eve, including a big pad stop on a wraparound attempt in the second period.
“He’s always been really mentally tough,” Zegras said. “Whenever he comes off a tough game, he always seems to rebound, and I think if we want to be a really successful team here we need him to be really good for us every night, and two shutouts in a row, hopefully, that boosts his confidence and gets him ready for the quarterfinals.”
Between Knight and Dustin Wolf, the American netminders have not allowed a goal in 206:35, setting a record that was established in 2015 by the gold medal-winning squad (205:45). Including Wolf’s shutout of Austria, this marks the first time USA Hockey has recorded three shutouts at the World Juniors.
The U.S. was without Patrick Moynihan, who was out with an injury. The Devils prospect took a late, high (and, many would say, dirty) hit against Austria (the player was suspended two games for the hit) and was knocked around against the Czechs, as well. With Moynihan out, the American dressed 12 forwards and eight defensemen, with Senators prospect Tyler Kleven slotting in on the back end. Moynihan’s status for the tournament is unknown.
The Americans will now face Slovakia in the quarterfinals on Jan. 2 at 10:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network/TSN).
“We know that we have to be playing our best,” said Leaman who was on the coaching staff of USA Hockey’s 2009 team that was upset by the Slovaks. “Now it matters that we’re playing our best and that was discussed with the guys after the game that to have success we can’t go away from it whatsoever and that it’s a new tournament now.”
Sporting News had all the action as the United States ended 2020 on a high note and took the top spot in Group B. The United States has won the group five previous times, finishing with four medals (bronze in 2011; silver in 1996; gold in 2004 and 2017).
(All times Eastern)
USA vs. Sweden score, highlights from 2021 World Juniors
Third period: USA 4, Sweden 0
11:48 p.m. — Lots of chances for the Americans with the last seconds of the power play ticking off.
11:45 p.m. — Sweden takes an offensive zone penalty. With 8:04 left in the game the Americans are in full control.
11:41 p.m. — Spencer Knight with a pad save.
11:34 p.m. — Neither team has much fire in this period just yet.
11:26 p.m. — Final 20 of the game. Final 34 of 2020. Let’s go.
11:09 p.m. — Per NHL Network, USA has not allowed a goal in two hours, two seconds with a goalie in net.
Second period: USA 4, Sweden 0
11:07 p.m. — Knight makes a good shot on the point shot through traffic.
11:05 p.m. — Soderblom rings one off the pipe. Sweden comes close but that’s the closest they’d get on the power play.
11:04 p.m. — Kaliyev gets called for tripping and gives the Swedes their first power play of the game.
11:01 p.m. — Five minutes to go in the period, USA is outshooting Sweden 27-22.
10:58 p.m. — Spencer Knight doesn’t know where the puck is and is leaning the wrong way on a wrap-around attempt but kicks out the pad at the last second to keep Sweden off the board.
10:42 p.m. — Goalie change for Sweden. Hugo Alnefelt is out. Jesper Wallstedt is in.
10:41 p.m. — GOAL. Off a scramble in the slot, Arthur Kaliyev feeds Alex Turcotte standing on the doorstep and far side. Turcotte stuffs the puck in and gets his first of the tournament. USA leads 4-0.
10:40 p.m. — On the penalty shot, Victor Soderstrom stickhandling and he had space after he pulls Knight out of position but loses control of the puck as he goes to his forehand and doesn’t even get a shot off.
10:39 p.m. — Arvid Costmar breaks in and is pulled down by Jackson Lacombe— and we get a penalty shot!
10:36 p.m. — GOAL. Two minutes into the period. One pass across the royal road after a clean faceoff win by Trevor Zegras and Ryan Johnson buries it. USA leads 3-0.
10:34 p.m. — In the first minute of action, Sweden gets to chances including one by Lucas Raymond that Spencer Knight stops.
10:33 p.m. — Period is underway.
First period: USA 2, Sweden 0
10:14 p.m. — A good first period for the Americans. Spencer Knight stopped nine shots as the Americans put 14 on net, including the two from bad angles that resulted in goals.
10:10 p.m. — With two seconds left, Alex Turcotte gets an extra love tap in on the goalie and the Swedes introduce themselves to him.
10:05 p.m. — Americans head to the power play.
9:53 p.m. — After making save Alnefelt is out of position but Alex Turcotte can’t stuff the puck in. Victor Soderstrom with a stick save and a beauty.
9:44 p.m. — GOAL. Trevor Zegras throws the shot on next from the halfwall on the left boards and it finds daylight above the shoulder of Alnefelt. USA leads 2-0.
9:43 p.m. — Teams swap scoring chances.
9:39 p.m. — GOAL. just 1:09 into the game, Drew Helleson throws the puck on net from the corner and below the goal line and it somehow goes in. USA leads 1-0.
9:37 p.m. — Game on and as the ref said: “Let’s finish 2020 right here.”
9:37 p.m. — Silky mitts.
8:45 p.m. — Lines are here.
Looks like the U.S. will be going head-to-head with Calle Clang (PIT) in his first game of WJC action. Hugo Alnefelt (TBL) not playing for a second straight game. Oskar Olausson (2021) back in SWE’s lineup after sitting out last night. pic.twitter.com/JHaF0TO7YG
— Chris Peters (@chrismpeters) January 1, 2021
World Juniors 2021: Latest news
Credit: Source link