Last day of round robin sees two upsets at U18s

By Jeff Dahlia

Americans downed by Russians in a barnburner
Russia erases multiple deficits to win 6-5

It was the second game of the night at the Urban Plains Center in Fargo, but the USA-Russia match-up was the big ticket yesterday and the two squads didn’t disappoint. And like the small contingency of their fans parked at center ice and bearing their nations colors, Team Russia had to fight through the American roar to earn a big win heading into the playoff round.

“That had to be an exciting game for the fans,“ Team USA head coach Ron Rolston said. “There was a lot of momentum shifts in the game. We were up. They were up. Then we tied it. There was just a lot of back and forth.”

Although, if you were going to predict the flow and outcome of entire game based on the first period alone, you’d say that Russia was in for a long night. They came out sloppy, lacking chemistry and were unable to generate a sizable attack. Noticing that things weren’t going well for their opponent, Team USA was able to build off the dysfunction by using a forecheck to go up early.

“We wanted to generate a forecheck on them,” Rolston said. “I thought when we did get it deep and generating some pressure, we were getting some of the pucks they were turning over and establishing some good offensive zone play.”

USA team captain William Wrenn got the Americans on the board when he scored on the power play. After moving the puck around the offensive zone, Cam Fowler slid Wrenn a pass as he waited at the top of the left circle. His shot hit off a Russian defender, which directed it past goalie Igor Bobkov for the 1-0 lead.

USA would increase their lead to 2-0, when Chris Brown slammed home a rebound from a Jason Zucker shot at the 15:00 mark.

After taking the first intermission to regroup, the Russians came out for the middle frame and slowly got things going.

They would break through, when Evgeni Kuznetsov took a long stretch pass and beat American goalie Adam Murray to make it 2-1.

Just over five minutes later, Russia went back to the stretch pass and found success. Vladimir Tarasenko snuck in behind the USA’s defense and was off to the races. He would beat Murray again to tie it up at 2-2.

"They’re very good on the rush, quick transitions," USA forward John Henrion said. "I think as we were coming into our zone we were forcing plays, making dumb plays at the blue line instead of getting pucks deep and playing our game to our favor. They turned around at us and were coming down our throats and the pucks ended up in the back of the net."

On a roll and a power play, Russia struck for their third goal of the period as Kirill Kabanov scored to give them the 3-2 lead.

“During the second period, they took advantage of their bench position a couple times and snuck in behind us,” Rolston explained. “We expected that and knew what was coming.”

USA would come right back, as they knotted things up at three apiece before heading into the second intermission. Working with the man advantage, Jerry D’Amigo found Jeremy Morin, who beat Bobkov over the left shoulder with precision.

Team USA would get back to work as they opened the third period with another power-play goal. D’Amigo was working the puck behind the Russians net. As he emerged to Babkov’s right side, he hit Wrenn who activated from the point. In one fluid motion, Wrenn converted the setup for his second marker of the night to make it 4-3.

With the Russians’ confidence building, they continued to pressure the Americans. It paid off when USA couldn’t get the puck out of their own end. Kabanov pinched it at the near sideboards and picked up a loose puck. He would draw Murray and get him to move from left to right. As the play continued to develop, Tarasenko slipped in on the weak side. As Murray committed to Kabanov, the Russian hit his streaking counterpart for the score, equaling things up at 4-4.

“Our coach said we must not get upset and that we have to try to do better,” Kabanov recalled. “He said we could do this.”

As the final period carried on, Russia poured on the pressure. As American defender Jon Merrill was working the puck up to center ice on the power play, he lost control of the biscuit. Like sharks reacting to blood hitting the water, Tarasenko scooped up the puck and raced in on Murray. He faked the USA netminder by kicking his right leg. As Murray reacted, Tarasenko slide the puck in on the backhand for the shorthanded goal to complete hat trick and give Russia the 5-4 lead.

Russia would get another power-play goal from Maxim Kitsyn at 16:11 of the third to increase their lead to 6-4.

Morin would draw USA within a goal — his second of the night — to make it 6-5, but time ran out on the host country.

“We gave them too many easy chances on breakaways, stretch passes,” Rolston said. “Then we make a mistake on the power-play breakout. They just got too many easy opportunities.”

Wrenn offered his perspective.

“I think everyone had the effort tonight, but we tried to play a rush game with them and we can’t do that. [The Russians] all skilled and fast. We needed to do is get it down low, work their defense and get them tired early. We basically didn’t do that.”

Bobkov made 50 stops on 55 USA shots for Russia.

"Our goalie helped us a lot and we capitalized on every chance we had," Tarasenko said. "It was a great team effort. It was very important for us to get this win so we know we can beat anyone in the tournament.  We thank all the Russian fans who showed up to support us.  It was great to see Russian people in the stands cheering for us."

 
Swedes can’t outmuscle the Canadians at their own game
Canada capitalizes on Swedes mistakes, wins 4-2

You know what type of hockey you’re going to get when Team Canada is on the ice. They’re aggressive in all zones, hard on the puck, and they’ll take advantage of the opposition if they catch them out of sync. And that was exactly the formula as the Canadians rolled to a 4-2 over the Swedes.

For the majority of the first period, play was rather even as Sweden looked to match Canada’s heavy-handed approach. However, that approach worked against the Tre Kronor as Team Canada used to two back-to-back goals within 36 seconds of each other to the set tone.

“We wanted to mix the physical [game] with the speed,” Swedish head coach Stephan Lundh. “I think the guys were a little too hard at the beginning.”

"The first period we started really bad I think," Swedish defenseman Tim Erixon said. "We didn’t play our game, they got momentum and scored a couple goals there. The last two periods I think we played a lot better. The first period was not good. We didn’t control the puck, skate a lot, keep the puck."

Instead, Erixon said, they found themselves playing a Canadian-style game. The first goal came at 17:13 of the first when Hamilton fired off a shot from the top of the right circle. Swedish netminder Robin Lehner made the initial save, but the rebound bounced out to Byron Froese who buried it to put Canada up 1-0.

Team Canada came right back attacking Sweden at center ice. John McFarland grabbed a puck off a turnover and raced down the right side. Sweden’s defense would overcommit coverage, which left Joey Hishon open sitting on the back door step. As McFarland approached the goal line, he threaded a pass and Hishon slammed it home to put the Team Canada up 2-0.

“I told them we had to be a little more careful with the puck,” Lundh added. “There was a couple of minutes where our defense was just throwing the puck around the boards and the Canadians were right there. I told them to go up the middle and make that first strong move. When we did that, we got more pressure.”

Sweden would get back into the game in the second period on the man advantage. The Swedes cut the lead in half when Erixon blasted a shot from the top of slot.  The rebound bounced back up and in front of Gabriel Landeskog, who swatted it out the air and into the goal.

“I had a couple good shots,” Erixon said. “ They [Canadians] do a good job of blacking the shooting lanes, so I was hoping to get some lucky bounces.”

But Canada came right back and pushed their to 3-1 when Hishon took a rebound and stuffed it past Lehner for his second of the night.

The Swedes wouldn’t go quietly as they used their second power play of the middle stanza to get back within a goal. Thirty-six seconds after McFarland was whistled for an elbowing penalty, Erixon fired another booming shot from the high slot. The puck made its way through traffic to make it 3-2.

“We did our best until the last minutes,” Lundh said. “It was pretty close down to the last face-off and we had a shot.”

Play went back and forth during the final frame until Brett Connolly added an insurance empty-netter at 19:44.

Holly Gunning contributed to this article.