Lo and behold, USA is undefeated through its first three games at the IIHF World Championship in Prague. Given the commentary in regards to the roster leading up to the tournament, this comes as a surprise to many. Looking closely at the play of the young Americans, it’s clear they are leveraging their speed and skating ability for their early stage success.
Desire to Be There
Ken Campbell of The Hockey News created a stir when he chastised American players for their lack of desire to compete in the World Championship. He and a number of other hockey pundits had this year’s American team dead to rights before the tournament even began. Now here they stand 3-0, beating arguably the two best teams in their group: Russia and Finland.
You know what? Who cares about Phil Kessel, Ryan Miller and T.J. Oshie because it’s about fielding a team that wants to be there. The likes of Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin and Jimmy Vesey are young players excited to relish the opportunity and showcase their skills against some of the World’s best. It’s better to have a group of young, hungry players with something to prove over a more experienced roster who’s just going through the motions.
This desire to be in the Czech Republic and compete is made very apparent in the way the Americans play. They never stop hustling, sell out when needed, give 100% every shift and never back down. They appear to have a bit of a chip on their shoulder, creating a workmanlike effort that’s been very effective. Let’s take a closer look at how they’re doing it.
Playing Hard on the Puck
What’s been quite apparent is how fast the American squad is. They’re outracing opponents to the puck, back checking
aggressively to eliminate odd man rushes, creating opportunities and keeping their feet moving at all times. When they do possess the puck they are getting into good position, shielding off defenders and staying strong on their feet. In other words, Team USA has been very difficult to play against.
Let’s look at a few examples. Jeremy White of WGR 550 in Buffalo has put together a series of clips highlighting the play of Eichel. We can use these to illustrate how the Americans as a whole have been playing.
This shows how quickly the Americans are breaking out of their zone and creating offensive opportunities. As soon as Trevor Lewis touches the puck, Eichel explodes out of the defensive zone to setup the scoring opportunity.
In this clip, Eichel uses his long stick, stays strong on his skates and positions himself to protect the puck to win a battle along the boards against Artem Anisimov.
Team USA’s third tally came (1:09 into the highlight) when Mark Acrobello gains possession of the puck in the neutral zone and quickly flips the play around. Acrobello gets credit for the goal, but notice how Jeremy Morin crashes hard to the net, readying himself for a pass or a rebound.
Although it’s still early in the tournament and powerhouses Canada and Sweden are playing in the other group, the early play from the American squad has been promising. They must continue to keep their feet moving and play tenaciously if they hope to make a splash during this year’s tournament.
Stayed tuned here at THW for all the latest World Championship news. I’ll be on the ground in Prague from the quarterfinals onwards delivering all the latest news.
As an American based in Amsterdam, Joe provides a unique hockey insight, bringing a global perspective to the game. Joe has several years of experience covering the game on both a domestic and international level, including being credentialed for multiple World and World Junior Championships.