USA pummels Sweden, clinches spot in U-18 gold medal game

By Tran Longmoore

It’s a good thing teams have a day off before the 2004 Under 18 Compuware Four Nations Cup resumes in Ann Arbor, MI Thursday. After last night’s hard-hitting, helmet-popping game between the USA and Sweden, players will need a day to recuperate. And one day might not be enough to repair the bruised egos suffered by the Swedes in Tuesday night’s
7-1 loss to an American team that was simply better.

Left wing Andreas Vlassopolous scored two goals and added an assist and goalie Jeff Frazee turned aside 19 of 20 shots as Team USA won its second straight game of the tournament and clinched a spot in Friday night’s gold medal game.

Three late second period goals — two on the power play — in a span of 4:31 seconds blew the game open.
The Swedes started the game strong, skating with confidence and playing much more physical than they did in their opening day tie with Finland.

However, they found themselves down 2-0 midway through the first period even after having three power plays.
The US opened the scoring at 2:24 when defenseman Zach Jones’ shot trickled between the pads of goalie Mattias Modig. After killing off three minutes of a five-on-three power play, the US added to its lead with another strange goal. With both teams short a man, center Jimmy Fraser streaked down the right wing and fired a slow slapshot which Modig stopped. The rebound, however, bounced of oncoming Chris Cahill’s skate and past the sprawled Modig for a 2-0 lead. Sweden’s coach Mikael Tisell protested the goal, screaming to officials to no avail that Cahill kicked the puck in the net.

The Americans continued to pound on their smaller opponents in the first period, finishing nearly every check and often going out of their way to inflict punishment on the Swedes. They played like minor penalties were a small price to pay for physically intimidating an opponent. And the way they
killed penalties, they may have been right.

At 14:59, on their fifth power play of the game, Sweden finally connected for a tally. After some crisp passing on the point between Fredrik Petterson and
Niklas Hjalmarsson, Mattias Ritola rifled a slapshot over Frazee’s shoulder to cut the lead in half.
But the Americans had an answer less than two minutes later when Vlassopolous and Jason Bailey screamed down the ice on a two on one.
Bailey, on the right wing, got his pass through the defenseman to Vlassopolous, who cut sharply to the right before lifting a goal into a suddenly empty
net.

In the second period, the US continued to dominate the Swedes. The Swedish forwards couldn’t find way past the strong and quick US defense. And the Swedish defense had a tough time containing the Americans’
big, speedy forwards. While frustrated, the Swedes found themselves down just two goals with almost half a game to play.

And then tempers boiled over.

The USA took exception when big Swedish winger Johan Dahlberg nearly checked an American player into Team Sweden’s bench. Though no punches were
thrown, Dahlberg squared off with Peter Mueller and Niklas Persson got into it with Jason Lawrence. Each of the players were penalized for fighting, but the Swedes were penalized an extra six minutes because center Johan Nilsson
left the bench during the scrum. None of the players returned to play in the game.

Coach Tisell was livid at the penalties assessed to Nilsson.
It took less than a minute for USA center Ryan Stoa to capitalize on the five-on-three advantage. At 17:07, still on the power play, Vlassopolous fired a wristshot through a screen into the top corner to put the USA
up 5-1.

But the USA wasn’t done yet. With just over a minute to play in the second period Kyle Lawson fed the puck to Justin Mercier in the slot.
Mercier’s wrist shot was in an out of the net so fast that play continued for a few seconds before players realized the play was blown dead.

US captain Jimmy Fraser closed out the scoring at 1:01 of the third period.

Team USA (2-0) continues play Thursday night when they take on Team Finland.
The Americans, by virtue of their two wins, have clinched a spot in Friday’s gold medal game. Sweden (0-1-1) plays Switzerland Thursday afternoon.
Sweden needs a victory to have any chance at playing in the gold medal game.

Game Notes

• The official players of the game were American left wing Andreas Vlassopolous (2 goals, 1 assist) and Swedish right wing Mattias Ritola (1 goal). Vlassopolous, a 5’11 speedster from Los Angeles, California, took advantage of all that room created by his heavy hitting teammates. Ritola, a 6’0, 187-pounder who plays with Frolunda HC
in Sweden, scored his team’s only goal and delivered several big hits.

• Nine minutes into the first period, Sweden lost center Patrick Zackrisson to injury. He fell awkwardly after being crosschecked by big US defenseman
Mark Mitera. Zackrisson appeared unable to put weight on an injured leg as he was helped from the ice. He did not return.

• Coach Tisell had lots of line juggling to do. He entered the third period with Zackrisson, Johan Dahlberg, Johan Nilsson, and Niklas Persson.

• Heavy hitting defenseman Jack Johnson, Mark Mitera and David Inman dominated Swedish forwards, turning their defensive zone into a “no fly zone.” Johnson, who never met a check he didn’t finish, also picked up two assists and four penalty minutes.

Chad Morin, eligible for the 2006 draft, was used more often by coach Ron Rolston. Morin is a quick and mobile defenseman who loves to move the puck. He looked very good against Sweden.

• You wonder if Kim Sunna wishes he’d stayed on the other side of the pond. Sunna was a last-minute selection after an injury to a fellow Swede.
Sunna was rocked twice in one shift Tuesday night. First he got sandwiched between Jack Johnson and Jimmy Fraser. A few seconds later, Johnson caught him
crossing center ice with his head down. Sunna stayed on the ice for a few seconds before getting up. After a few strides, he fell back to the
ice.

• In a third period that looked more like roller derby than ice hockey, more devastating hits were delivered. Swedish defenseman Frederik Sonntag was woozy after getting steamrolled by Justin Mercer. But the Swedes delivered
some big hits, too. Smooth skating defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson delivered two crunching blows to Zac Macvoy.

• Swedish coach Mikael Tisell has been visibly unhappy with some of the calls officials have made in this tournament. In the Finland game, Sweden had two goals waved off. Finland also scored a goal that was protested by
the Swedish players on the ice. In the USA game, Tisell angrily protested the Americans’ second goal, saying it was kicked in the net. He was also livid that Sweden was so heavily penalized after a dust-up in the second period. The USA blew open the game on the ensuing power plays. Tisell could frequently be seen with his hands up the air while the Americans pummeled his players all over the ice.

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