Team USA takes gold at U18’s. Finland takes bronze

By Jeff Dahlia

USA dominates Russia in final to capture U18 gold
Russians’ potent attack snuffed; Campbell perfect in net

When any team earns the chance to play for a championship, clichés start flying about having your best players be their best when it matters most. Very seldom do you get a chance to witness an entire squad rise to the occasion and turn in a performance that is truly complete.

Playing against Russia in the 2009 IIHF U18 World Championship, Team USA couldn’t have picked a better time to show that “completeness” last night. After getting an early 2-0 lead on Team Russia halfway through the first period, the Americans used that momentum to dominate their opponent in every aspect of the game.

“That’s about as well as we played all year,” Team USA head coach Ron Rolston said. “Our defensive core was outstanding tonight. We limited their best players’ opportunities and when they did early on, Jack [Campbell] made some really good saves for us.”

Neutralizing Russia’s speed and swift transition game proved to be the difference as Team USA limited the opposition’s chances and wrecked havoc in the neutral zone. A stifling backcheck provided all the turnovers and offensive chances the Americans needed as they cruised to the thrilling 5-0 before a record crowd of 4,923 at the Urban Plains Center.

“We were under a lot of pressure,” Russian head coach Vladimir Plyushchev said. “If we could have scored maybe a goal, it could have been a different game. But it was hard to concentrate because the crowd was on us.

“The U.S. had a very balanced attack. Not just the defense, but the entire team. You could see that they had four lines that they could roll, where I was relying on mainly two lines. But if we would have got that one goal we were looking, the complexity of the game would have changed a lot.”
2010-eligible defenseman Cam Fowler started things out when he put Team USA up 1-0 at 2:09 in the first period. Working off the right sideboards, Drew Shore moved the puck back to William Wrenn at the point. Wrenn skated to his left and passed the puck to Fowler, then setup in the mid-slot. Moving into the top of the slot from the left point, Fowler blasted the shot, which beat a screened Igor Bobkov to make it 1-0.

“I just tried to the fake the pass then I rolled to the middle,” Fowler said. “I kind of threw soft shot on net but our forwards did a great job screening and it found the back of the net.”

Team USA struck for another first period goal when Kevin Lynch and Matt Nieto got in behind the Russian defense with speed for a two-on-one. Lynch moved the puck down the right wing with Nieto to his left. As Bobkov addressed Lynch, the winger fed Nieto, whose one-timer found the back of the net to make it 2-0.

“The Americans made some very big adjustments since the last game,” Bobkov said. “They were just flying. Those first two quick goals gave the advantage to them.  I was constantly under siege. My players were helping me out but the Americans just wanted it more.”

Defenseman Wrenn continued the assault in the middle frame, as he scored Team USA’s second power-play goal of the night at 1:55 to extend his squad’s lead to 3-0. After winning the face-off in the Russian zone, Team USA sustained possession down low. Shore was working out of the right corner when he eyed the captain mid-slot. Shore sent a crisp pass Wrenn’s way as he wired it past Bobkov for his third goal of the tournament.

Visibly frustrated with the inability to sustain pressure and create chances of their own, the Russians started unraveling towards the end of the second period.

“One of the big things was we wanted to keep a lot of pressure on the puck,” Rolston explained. “They like to bring the puck and get guys swinging with speed. If we don’t have pressure on the puck, they can stretch it out a lot.”

Continuing to utilize their own speed and persistence, the Americans created a myriad of chances in final frame. Chris Brown and Ryan Bourque would cash in on those chances as they added back-to-back goals in a span of 1:10 to put the game out of reach at 5-0.

Things didn’t get better for Team Russia as  they would take seven out of nine penalties issued in the last period, which limited their chances because they spent the majority of the time on the penalty kill.

“Some of the penalties were legit, but some of them were questionable,” Plyushchev explained. “It made it really hard for us because we had to keep killing them off.”

This was ever so apparent in towards the end, as a weary Russian team clearly ran out of gas. Facing only a couple of serious scoring chances throughout the contest, Team USA goalie Jack Campbell was still dazzling as he finished a perfect 17 for 17.

“Our forwards did an unbelievable job on the backcheck,” Campbell said. “Our defense did a great job of holding them to perimeter shots all night and shooting out the rebounds.”

Rolston was equally impressed with his young netminder.

“Jack did a great job tonight,” Rolston said. “Adam [Murray] did an outstanding job the first part of the tournament and Jack was able to bring it home for us. The last few games he made some huge saves.”

With goals from five different players, Shore ended up leading Team USA in scoring last night with three points (all assists).

Finland beats Canada 5-4 in a shootout
Rajala leads comeback to help Finns capture bronze

When Team Finland and Team Canada came out for the pre-game skate before their bronze medal game, both teams were loose but focused. As the teams were on the tail end of their warm-ups, a group of Finns became casually interested in Canadian forward Kyle Clifford. And as Clifford returned to center ice multiple times, he made it a point to chat it up with the opposition.

“I just came into the warm-up and I was really trying to set the tone,” Clifford said. “ I let them know that it wasn’t going to be an easy game.”

Truer words couldn’t have been spoken as Team Canada opened up to a stunning 4-1 lead deep into the second period. Although, it was actually Finland who had the last word on the night. Reeling off the last three goals – two of which were on the power play – during regulation play, Team Finland would take the Canadians into overtime and eventually capture the bronze medal winning 5-4 in a shootout.

Team Canada would get on the board first while working on the power play. Defenseman Dylan Olsen got the puck at the top of the slot and snapped off a shot that beat Finland goalie Joni Ortio five-hole. When the shot rung out, Ortio didn’t have a chance to pick it up quick enough as Canada forwards screened him out. The puck trickled in between the wickets to give Team Canada the 1-0 lead.

Finland wouldn’t waste any time mounting an attack as they barreled right into the Canadian zone. They would lose the puck behind the net, but an errant clearing attempt by a Team Canada defender bounce off the boards and onto the stick of Jesse Mankinen. Working off the rear boards and to the right of Canada’s netminder Michael Zador, Mankinen fed Janne Kumpulainen who put it past the goalie to make it 1-1.

Zack Kassian pushed back and put Canada ahead 2-1 at the 12:29 mark in the first. Heading into neutral zone, Ryan O’Reilly picked up Kassian, who snuck in behind Finnish defenseman Tommi Kivisto. O’Reilly feathered the pass up ice and Kassian was off to the races. Going head up with Ortio, the Canadian forward took the puck and held it out it his left with one hand on the stick. As the move froze Ortio, Kassian wheeled it back into his body, then beat the netminder with a forehand shot.

Landon Ferraro got into the mix 37 seconds later when he sniped a shot from the middle of the left circle that beat Ortio glove side.

“Sure there was a little pressure in a game like this,” Ortio replied when asked if nerves played a part in his shaky start. "They were able to score a couple quick goals.”

Team Canada would add to their lead in the middle frame when Peter Holland one-timed a Ferraro pass to put them up 4-1. Working out of the left corner, Ferraro moved down the goal towards the net. As Ortio tucked into the corner of the post addressing the shooter, Ferraro found Holland crashing down the slot untouched as he converted the chance.

“It felt pretty good,” Ferraro said about factoring into the offense. “It’s important to make sure you bring your best in games like this.”

Finland got one back before the period came to close when Toni Rajala beat an outstretched Zador to split the difference at 4-2. The play developed when Olsen was trying to advance the put up the ice to the right of his own net. As Rajala rushed in to apply pressure, the puck slid off Olsen’s stick right onto the Finnish forward’s. Rajala deked Zador, making him stretch out in the crease. Once Zador was down and venerable, Rajala slid the puck in behind Zador’s right skate.

“I had a little luck with that goal,” Rajala said. “But it was a very important goal for our team. We started to play and we started to come from behind.”

Rajala’s goal really proved to swing the energy in Finland’s favor.

“The key turning point was the 4-2 goal for sure,” Johnston said. “I thought we had the game under control at that point. We were really doing well offensively, hanging onto the puck and wearing down some of their defensemen. It was a harmless play. The puck went back to Olsen and he bobbles it and they pounce on it and it seemed to catch everyone by surprise.”

The Finns would take the momentum into the third period, where they used two consecutive power-play goals from Joni Karjalainen and Rajala to pull it even at 4-4.

“We didn’t play our best game at first,” Rajala said. “ But the second and third period was really good for our team.”

Finland continued to pressure the entire final frame, controlling play and cutting off Canada’s transition game. But it wasn’t enough as the two teams ended regulation play in a tie.

“In the third, they really seemed to come on,” Johnston added. “I really give them a lot of credit. They’re a fast, skilled team. It looks like our guys ran out of gas a bit and they really started to skate.”

After a scoreless overtime period, the two teams turned to a shootout to decide the match.

Rajala and Teemu Pulkkinen beat Zador, while Ortio stopped John McFarland and O’Reilly as Finland won 5-4 to take home the bronze medal.

Rajala was also credited with the game-winner in the shootout, which gave him the hat trick on the night.

“I have an ‘A’ on this shirt,” Rajala said referring to the assistant captain’s A on his jersey. “I have to play for this team all the time.”