Despite the late arrival of All-Star Alexander Ovechkin to the 2015 IIHF World Championship, Team USA was able to skate with Russia for almost 50 minutes in their semifinal showdown, often controlling the play over long stretches. But a Sergei Mozyakin wrist shot broke the 0-0 deadlock and opened the floodgates to a 4-0 win for Russia. With that, one of the tournament’s oldest teams beat the tournament’s youngest.
A first-line forward for the U.S. in recent games was Anders Lee, who just completed a season in which he saw his first extensive NHL hockey where he finished with an impressive 25 goals and 41 points for the New York Islanders. Lee played in his first-ever World Championship tournament, where he collected one goal and five points in 10 games.
After the disappointing loss to Russia, he shared a few thoughts with Hockey’s Future.
Hockey’s Future: A few weeks ago, you were playing against Ovechkin in the NHL playoffs. All of a sudden, he shows up for this playoff game. Déjà vu all over again. What does Team USA take from this loss?
Anders Lee: It was a real good game, I think. The first two periods were really tight and we couldn’t capitalize on any of our opportunities. They did what they needed to do defensively, and of course, Bobrovsky was very strong tonight.
HF: This Team USA has an average age of just under 24 and yet you were skating and playing with these older, more established Russians, several of whom are world All-Stars, for the majority of the game. What has it been like for you personally to be part of this Team USA this spring?
AL: It’s been great. We’re a really hard-working group. We sit together and talk a lot and then go out there and play out the systems. Then we work hard and that’s what’s gotten us this far and given us success in this tournament. We unfortunately let it slip in the third today, but we’re a young group of guys who are all getting a lot of experience and learning from these things. Hopefully it’ll bode well for us in the future.
HF: You’ll now play for bronze in front of a sold out crowd and against the host nation Czechs. Any thoughts on that?
AL: It’s going to be an outstanding atmosphere. We’re still playing for third place here and that’d be an outstanding accomplishment. We’re already looking forward to that and it’s going to be a tough game against a great team.
HF: How have you enjoyed your time in the Czech Republic?
AL: Just wonderful. It’s my first time over here in Europe and it’s been a great one.
HF: This past season you were called up from the AHL and you never looked back, even throwing your name into the Calder Trophy hat. How was this year for you?
AL: I’m very thankful that things have fallen into place. You know, you work hard all year, all summer in the offseason, then you go out on the ice and also need to get the right bounces and play well. That’s all really rewarding and I’m happy about the opportunity and hope to continue to grow as a player.
HF: How excited are you about the move to Brooklyn?
AL: It’s exciting. We had a great year this year in the Nassau Coliseum and we’ll always call Long Island our home. We’ll miss that arena quite a bit. It’ll be a bit of a transition, but I’m assuming at this point that it’s going to be quite a great time there.
HF: Did you have a chance to talk to Islanders management about what the plan is for you going into next season?
AL: Yes, you know, we have a great locker room there and the pieces are in place. This experience that we had this year, with ups and downs and the playoffs, just helps us grow as a team. All the mistakes we made and then the success we had will make us all that much more mature next year. I don’t think we have too many missing pieces. I think we have what it takes and the just the right guys in the locker room.
Also making his World Championship debut is none other than super-talent Jack Eichel, who should be the second pick in the 2015 NHL Draft after Connor McDavid. Despite being just 18, he centered the USA’s second line with Brock Nelson and captain Trevor Lewis and collected two goals and seven points in 10 games. He shared some thoughts heading into the bronze medal game.
Hockey’s Future: Lots of opportunities today against the star-laden Team Russia. How frustrating was it not being able to beat Sergei Bobrovsky?
Jack Eichel: We tried to keep things simple and create a lot of chances. Nothing would go in. We just weren’t able to bury the opportunities and that was the difference.
HF: It was 0-0 heading into the third. What were you boys thinking in the locker room?
JE: Things were just so tight and back and forth all game long. We knew that we had had the better of the play in the second period, but ultimately the difference ended up being that we couldn’t capitalize and then they did. In the intermission heading into the third, we talked about bearing down on the second and third chances, concentrating on getting those in at all costs. We got into some penalty trouble in the third and this was to their advantage. We didn’t do enough to get the win.
HF: Team USA has such a young team here. What does it say about things that solely the college boys on the team accounted for 15 or more of the shots Team USA generated tonight?
JE: We had a good game and had good jump in our legs. We were keeping things fairly simple and getting pucks to the net. Particularly Larkin and Vesey had really good games for us. They were very active. We were going on all cylinders until those mishaps came in the third period. Then we couldn’t get any of those chances by Bobrovsky.
JE: It’s been excellent, and wraps up what’s really been a crazy year since winning gold at the U18s. Being here has been a fantastic experience and a great honor and opportunity. I’ve gotten to learn a lot about where I am, what I can do, and what I still need to learn. I’ve been learning a lot from the older pros here. It’s showed me that I can definitely get better at a lot of things. I feel this will help me to be ready to take the next step and play professionally.
HF: Now you get to play for bronze in front of huge crowd that is very passionate about its national team, your opponent in the contest. What are your thoughts on that?
JE: It’s going to be awesome. This is a huge opportunity to take a medal home. The USA hasn’t done that in a few years now. That means a lot to us and we’ll be ready to go.
HF: You’ve played prime, top-six minutes at this tournament. You were even on the ice in all the important junctures of this game. How much has that trust that the coaching staff is placing in you meant to you at this point?
JE: That definitely says a lot about the coaches behind the bench and how they want to foster this big group of young players here. They’ve been talking to me a lot throughout this tournament. They’ve wanted me to go out there and compete and be good and responsible in my own zone. Doing just that has been the key for me here.
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