2014 WJC Review: USA finishes disappointing fifth after winning gold in 2013

By DJ Powers

Nic Kerdiles - Team USA

Photo: University of Wisconsin forward and Anaheim Ducks prospect Nic Kerdiles led the way on offense for Team USA at the 2014 World Junior Championship, picking up seven points in five games (courtesy of uce Bennett/Getty Images)

A year after capturing the gold medal at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Russia, the Americans finished out of medal contention this year with a fifth-place finish. Although Team USA as a whole played well in the tournament, the team couldn’t quite find the same magic at this year's WJC.

One reason was penalties. In their quarterfinal game versus Russia, Team USA surrendered two five-on-three power-play goals and was never able to recover. Unlike in last year’s run to claiming the gold medal, Team USA struggled to regroup and bounce back after untimely penalties or falling behind against the top teams they played against in this year’s tournament.

Two areas where the USA excelled during the tournament was spreading out their offensive production and their power-play. Every skater on the American squad except defenseman Ian McCoshen (FLA) posted at least one point during the tournament. Team USA finished with the best power-play percentage (40.74) in the tournament. Their 11 power-play tallies finished tied for second.

Nic Kerdiles (ANA) led Team USA in the tournament with seven points (two goals, five assists). Matt Grzelcyk (BOS) led the tournament in defensive scoring with six points (two goals, four assists). Unfortunately, both players suffered shoulder injuries shortly after their return to college hockey.

The top line of Kerdiles, Riley Barber (WSH) and Danny O’Regan (SJS) accounted for 21% of Team USA’s total points – the most of any line. O’Regan, who missed the game versus Germany due to injury, was replaced by Zach Stepan (NSH). Kerdiles, Barber and O’Regan meshed exceedingly well in the tournament, showing that they could be a threat in any situation. Stepan, who spent much of the tournament on the fourth line, adapted well to centering the top line in O’Regan’s absence.

Arguably the United States’ most consistent line in the tournament was their “grind line” of Stefan Matteau (NJD), Andrew Copp (WPG) and Hudson Fasching (LAK). The trio’s combination of size, speed and physicality wreaked havoc on Team USA’s opponents throughout the tournament. But what was perhaps even more impressive was the chemistry that the three players developed and maintained. The line was kept intact until the quarterfinal game versus Russia. Copp, who centered the line, was excellent on face-offs, as well.

One player that far exceeded expectations for Team USA was Jack Eichel. While he isn’t draft-eligible until 2015, his sensational performance in the tournament sent his draft stock soaring. Eichel, who centered the USA’s second line that also featured Ryan Hartman (CHI) and Adam Erne (TBL), finished the tournament with five points (one goal, four assists). Eichel’s elite-level skillset coupled with his superb skating were assets that made scouts take notice. Eichel is likely to be a part of the USA squad at next year’s tournament, as well.

Team USA’s fourth line of Vince Hinostroza (CHI), Quentin Shore (OTT) along with the rotation of Stepan and Thomas Di Pauli (WSH) provided loads of energy as well as some added scoring depth for the U.S. Both Hinostroza and Stepan, who are playing or have played center with their respective collegiate teams this season, spent time on wing in the tournament and showed that they were equally as comfortable on wing as they are in the middle.

Team USA’s defense figured prominently on the scoresheet, collectively accounting for 27% of the team’s scoring. McCoshen and Jaccob Slavin (CAR) rotated as Grzelcyk’s defensive partner. Slavin was a pleasant surprise for the Americans. His outstanding puck-moving skills were noticeable throughout the tournament, particularly against the Czech Republic.

Brady Skjei (NYR) and Connor Carrick (WSH) were arguably Team USA’s best defensive duo. The two rearguards excelled in their roles as shutdown defensemen. Both used their strength, physicality and skating quite effectively in transition as well as stripping pucks and moving bodies out of the crease.

Will Butcher (COL) and Steve Santini (NJD) rounded out Team USA’s defensive pairings. Bucther provided some good offensive punch from the blueline and quarterbacked the United States’ power play. Although Santini also possesses some good scoring ability, he was relied on more for his hard-hitting, defensive play – an attribute that he has displayed at Boston College this season.

Starting goaltender Jon Gillies (CGY) played quite well during the tournament, but his ability to win games that he’s often shown at Providence College never fully materialized in Malmo, Sweden. His .892 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against average were the lowest among the top teams’ netminders.

Gillies’ backup, Anthony Stolarz, saw action versus Germany, posting Team USA’s lone shutout. While the Edison, NJ native only faced 15 shots, he did make some key saves for the Americans. His noticeably higher confidence level since leaving Nebraska-Omaha last year was also quite evident in his one outing.

Looking to 2015

A number of this year’s players will be eligible to return next year when the World Junior Championship shifts to Canada, and that bodes well for the Unites States. In addition to Thatcher Demko and Jack Eichel, Team USA could also return Will Butcher, Adam Erne, Hudson Fasching, Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini. Forward Tyler Motte (CHI) and 2014 draft-eligible defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, two of the players cut from this year’s squad, are also expected to be in the mix for a spot on next year’s team.

USA WJC Video Interviews & Podcasts

Brady Skjei and Jon Gillies, 12/26/13 vs. Czech Republic

Connor Carrick, 12/26/13 vs. Czech Republic

Riley Barber, 12/26/13 vs. Czech Republic

HF Podcast, USA vs. Russia Preview, 1/2//14

Adam Erne and Jack Eichel, 1/2/14 vs. Russia

Steve Santini, 1/2/14 vs. Russia

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF