Team USA opened its 2004 Under 18 Compuware Four Nations Cup tournament with a dominating performance that didn’t quite equal the sum of its parts.
They outchanced the Swiss. They outmuscled the Swiss. They outskated the Swiss. They outplayed the Swiss. But they nearly threw
what should have been an easy victory out the window.
Despite leading 5-1 midway through the game, it took a third period
goal by winger Jason Lawrence to finally ice the gutsy Swiss team, 6-4, Monday night, in Ann Arbor, MI.
“There’s a lot of talent on the US team,” said St. Louis Blues scout Ted Hampson. “But give the (Swiss) credit. They might not have any first
round picks on their team, but they skated well and played like a team.”
From the drop of the puck, Team USA shot out on to the ice like a cannonball. Defensemen Jack Johnson, Kyle Lawson and David Inman punished
the smaller Swiss forwards every time they entered the zone. On the other end of the rink, forwards Jack Skille (2 goals, 1 assist) and Ryan Stoa (3 assists) pounded the Swiss defense.
The USA got on the board first at 3:38 of the period. With Swiss defenseman Diego Schwarzenbach in the box for tripping, winger Justin
Mercier’s wrist shot found a way through goalie Florian Kindschi.
But the tiny Kindschi stood tall against the US onslaught for the remainder of the period, turning away chance after chance until Switzerland’s Adrien Lauper tipped a loose puck past goalie Billy Blase.
Team USA came out firing again in the second period, scoring four unanswered goals.
Skille started the onslaught at 2:51, taking a pass from Stoa and
bursting down the right wing past the Swiss defender. Once past the
defenseman, Skille cut to the slot, dragging the puck in front of the
outstretched goalie before backhanding it into the net.
Barely a minute had passed and Team USA was on the attack again.
Mercier (2 goals, 1 assist) set the play up when he attempted a wrap-around goal.
Kindschi turned it aside, but Mercier dove to the rebound, sending a pass
across the slot to an open Peter Mueller, who slammed it home for a 3-1
The highlight reel goals continued. Just past the six minute mark of
the period, Mercier darted through a faceoff scrum and charged through
the defense before hitting Jason Lawrence with a pass. Lawrence passed it
right back to Mercier who faked to the forehand before beating Kindschi
with a backhand shot.
A timeout called by Swiss coach Alfred Gohern seemed to settle the
nerves of the rattled team for a spell. But at the 16:36 mark, Jack Skille
was at it again, stickhandling his way by two Swiss defenseman and
wiring a wrist shot past Kindschi to make it 5-1.
Just when it looked like the rout was on, Switzerland had an answer.
With just more than three minutes to play in the second period, winger
Pascal Zbinden found center Fabrizio Conte all alone in the slot. Conte
put a onetimer in the net before Blase even flinched.
With less than 20 seconds left in the period, Zbinden made perhaps the
prettiest play of the first day of the tournament. Chasing down an
errant pass, Zbinden chipped the past past one defenseman, sidestepped him
and then caught up to the puck. At full speed, he skated right through
another rearguard and then chipped the puck over Blase’s shoulder to
make it a 5-3 game.
In the third, Switzerland came out pressing for a goal. Less than five
minutes into the period, with USA’s Jack Johnson in the box for
interference, they got it. Defenseman Marc Welti hit the post with a low
slapshot before center Samuel Friedli stuffed home the rebound.
Team USA put an end to the dramatic comeback on a power play of its own
less than three minutes later when Jason Lawrence dipsy-doodled his way
from behind the net untouched and beat Kindschi for the insurance goal, ending the game 6-4.
• Don’t blame Swiss goalie Florian Kindschi for the loss. He was stellar in a losing cause. He was faultless in all but one of the USA goals.
• Despite a few second period gaffes in his own end, 6’1, 200lb defenseman Jack Johnson of Michigan was a force for Team USA. He threw four or five big hits, he skates well, and he can carry the puck up the ice. He’ll be playing for the University of Michigan Wolverines next season.
• Kyle Lawson isn’t as in your face as Jack Johnson, but he’s very effective defensively. He stands up well at the blueline and he works hard in the corners and out front of the net. He’s sold all around.
• “You didn’t have to look hard to see Jack Skille on the ice,” said St. Louis Blues scout Ted Hampson. No you didn’t. His line, with Ryan Stoa and Chris Cahill, set the tone for the game by throwing big body checks all over the ice. Skille (6’1, 200) also has good speed and a heavy
wrist shot. He looked like the kind of power forward NHL teams love to pick in the first round. He’s playing for the University of Wisconsin Badgers next year.
• It was tough not to root for the Swiss Team after the physical beating they took. They kept getting up. And some, like 6’3 winger Adrien
Lauper and 6’1 defensemen Marc Welti, tried to give it right back. Welti,
just 16, looks promising.
• The US had its fair share of 16-year-olds in the lineup, including starting center Peter Mueller and Chad Morin. Mueller leads the team in goals and points this season, but NHL teams will have to wait until 2006
to draft him. He’s playing college hockey in Minnesota next fall.
• Team USA continues play Tuesday against Sweden at 7 p.m. Finland plays Switzerland at 3:30 p.m.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.