Team USA advances in the World Juniors: Round robin roundup
Surprise–as of Sunday, Team Canada was the only undefeated team at the World Juniors in Ufa, as Group A and Group B square off in round robin competition before the quarterfinals begin. (Team Sweden also had 3 wins going into today’s games, but with one of them coming in overtime, they had 8 points in the standings as opposed to Canada’s 9.)
Team Canada was also, unsurprisingly, the highest-scoring team, and 17 goals for to seven goals against over the course of three games is pretty darn good. Germany and Latvia finished their round robin games earlier than the other top-tier teams and will both move on to the relegation round.
So, all of the remaining teams have medaled before — though perhaps not recently. The brevity of the tournament is unforgiving at best. International hockey lacks what American NHL fans are used to in playoffs: the series, the concept of “best of.” Best of 60 minutes is what counts here, with a brutally short preliminary round to determine who competes for the medals, and single-elimination format in the playoffs.
Team USA didn’t know whether they would advance after Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Canada, when a furious performance at the end of the game couldn’t tie it up. The sole tally Sunday was a power-play goal by Jacob Trouba midway through the third period. A lack of discipline and offensive firepower seemed to put the USA behind; however, their defensive ability kept them in the mix, and if it weren’t for Malcolm Subban in Canada’s net stopping 36 of 37 shots, it would have been a lot closer … if you can imagine a closer game than one that ended 2-1.
But Team USA got some symbolic revenge for their offense Monday morning starting at 5 a.m. (Boston time), when they began a 9-3 rout of Slovakia that sent the Slovaks packing to the relegation round. The Americans had it in the bag after 40; the Slovaks didn’t put up much of a fight, despite the fact that they were formidable opponents for Russia and Canada earlier in the tournament and were also playing for a chance at medal contention.
But the Americans got off to a sloppy start when, just 14 seconds after an early tally by Cole Bardreau, Slovakia’s Matus Matis was sent on a breakaway and put one behind John Gibson. It must have been the kick Team USA needed because there was no looking back.
With the results of Monday’s game between Sweden and Finland, the USA has drawn the Czech Republic for the quarterfinals–certainly a bigger and badder opponent than Russia’s draw of Switzerland, who have won only one game in round robin competition but advanced due to their losses coming in overtime, allowing them a few points in the standings. (Never let it be said that the Swiss didn’t fight for this.)
Barring an upset, though, both Canada and Russia will put in an appearance at the semis, despite Russia’s disappointing loss to Canada Monday. Russia got into penalty trouble and was generally undisciplined, allowing Canada to capitalize on opportunities despite a stellar performance from their goaltender Andrei Marakov, and first overall draft pick Nail Yakupov showing off a few beautiful moves on offensive rushes — although none of those ended up behind Subban.
And the USA still has some work to do. They need to keep their offense awake and play tight, without frustration. Disciplined play and scoring are almost always the stories in any given game at the World Juniors. We’ve finally seen that the USA has potential for both. Let’s hope they meet the still-undefeated Team Canada again soon to have the chance to prove it.