USA edges Sweden for gold in U18 Four Nations Cup

By Tran Longmoore

Justin Mercier scored at 7:33 of the third period and Jeff Frazee turned aside 20 shots as Team US beat Sweden 1-0 to win gold at the 2004 U18 Compuware Four Nations Cup in Ann Arbor, MI.

After ringing up 19 goals in its first three victories, including a 7-1
thrashing of the Swedes Tuesday night, few expected a goaltending duel
in the gold medal game. But that’s exactly what Frazee and Joel Gistedt delivered in Friday night’s nailbiting conclusion to the tournament.

Gistedt turned away 29 of the 30 shots fired his way by the high-octane
American team. And Frazee made several clutch saves breakaways and odd
man breaks throughout the game.

In the end, Mercier’s tourney-leading fifth goal was the difference.
Seven minutes into the third period, Team Sweden got caught on a long shift in its own end. The Americans peppered Gistedt with four point blank shots and the Swedes failed to clear the zone allowing Gistedt to zip from the left wing boards through the slot and rip a shot underneath the goalie for the game’s only goal.

Many in attendance expected the Americans to steamroll the Swedes, as
they did three nights earlier. But US head coach Ron Rolston said his
team was prepared for a hard-fought battle.

“We talked before the game and we knew we would be in a tough game. Our
previous game was a lot closer than the score indicated (7-1),” Rolston
said. “We had a couple soft, flukey goals early that gave us some
breathing room and forced them to take chances. But tonight they played the game we expected, and we were ready. Fortunately, Jeff (Frazee) and our defense held the fort until we could put one past their goalie.”

Frazee made several huge saves early in the game. Just 19 seconds into
the tilt, Sweden’s most dangerous forward Fredrik Petterson found a loose puck in between the faceoff circles. He skated in all by himself and ripped a shot headed for the top corner. Frazee did the splits and snatched the puck out of the air.

Two minutes later, Petterson and Frazee faced off again. Streaking down
the left wing, Petterson ripped a slap shot toward the top corner.
Again, Frazee and his flashy glove were there to save the day for the
Americans.

“Earlier this year we played Brown University in a 1-0 game that was
just like this one,” said Frazee. “So we knew we could play a tight
defensive game and keep the other guys off the board until our offense
started clicking.”

Gistedt, meanwhile, was equally sharp in his own end. And he had to be,
because just 3:42 into the game, Sweden found itself down two men. With
a 5-3 manpower advantage, the US power play whipped the puck around the
Swedish zone. But Gistedt was flawlessly positioned all game, cutting
down the angles and giving shooters nothing to look at. The Swedish
defensemen, led by Niklas Hjalmarsson and Alexander Hellstrom, did a great job taking away passing lanes and blocking shots.

The USA was 0 for 7 on power plays. Sweden was 0 for 3.

Some of the bad blood in Tuesday’s game carried over into Friday’s game. There were scrums and jostling after nearly every whistle in the first
two periods.

“I like when emotions are high,” said Jack Johnson, the USA defenseman
who seems to throw a big hit on every shift. “I thrive on the physical
game. It really gets me going.”

Johnson said winning the tournament in the team’s home arena — the Ann
Arbor Ice Cube — was special and important.

“You always want to win on your home soil. You always want to win in
front of your fans,” said Johnson.

But there’s more to it than that. In February, the US team crossed the Atlantic for a Five Nations
tournament in Sweden.

“It’s important to win here. To stake our claim,” said Johnson. “We
showed them that we won’t be pushed around. We showed them who’s boss.”

The USA National Under-18 team finished the tournament with a perfect
4-0 record, scoring 20 goals and giving up nine goals. Sweden finished
with a 1-2-1 record and took home silver.

Game Notes

• Swedish center Patrick Zackrisson missed his second straight game due to an injury. He was hurt after being crosschecked in Tuesday’s game
vs. the USA.

• Justin Mercier’s goal gave him five in the tournament. Jack Skille and
Jimmy Fraser had three goals apiece. Defenseman Jack Johnson, along with Skille and Mercier, led all players in the tournament with 6 points.

• Jeff Frazee gave up one goal in 43 shots in his two starts. His
shutout was the only shutout of the tournament.

• The best forward on the ice tonight was Swedish left wing Fredrik Petterson. Petterson, who had four points in the tournament, created several great
scoring chances with his great speed, shifty stickhandling and dynamite
shot. He had at least three point blank shots at Frazee in the gold
medal game. Petterson is eligible for the 2005 draft.

• The USA’s most dangerous forward was Peter Mueller. The 6’2, 200lb
center brought fans from their seats several times with his tricky
stickhandling moves. Mueller, who has verbally committed to Minnesota for next season, is eligible for the 2006 draft.

• Jack Johnson, Jack Skille and Ryan Stoa could all very well be first
round picks in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Johnson, who once played
junior hockey with phenom Sidney Crosby (the likely first overall pick in the draft), says he and Crosby are friends and they plan to sit next to each other at the draft.

”We work out together in the offseason and we stay in touch,” said
Johnson. “It’s going to be a special day.
Johnson has committed to the University of Michigan for next season.
Ryan Stoa should join Frazee in Minnesota. And Skille plans to attend
Wisconsin.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.