After 19 long months, Team USA took to the ice to defend the gold medal they won in Edmonton at the World Junior Championship (WJC) in January of 2021. Last night, they began that process by bouncing Team Germany in dominating fashion in a 5-1 opening day win.
The Americans dictated all facets of the game and if it were not for some solid goaltending by Germany’s NIkita Quapp and lack of finish on the part of the Americans, the score would have been more lopsided. Here are three takeaways from Team USA’s first victory of the 2022 WJC.
Hughes Displayed His Dominance
Luke Hughes, the University of Michigan defenseman and New Jersey Devils prospect who was the fourth overall pick in the 2021 Entry Draft, demonstrated why he is so highly touted. The left-handed blueliner got the Americans on the board 13 minutes into the first period on a shot that found its way through traffic to open the scoring for Team USA. He also set up the team’s third goal in the second period. He was a force for the Americans at both ends of the ice and a major reason the Germans struggled offensively. The ability of Hughes and the American defense corps to efficiently move the puck out of their end and transition into an offensive attack seamlessly were more than the Germans could handle.
Hughes is an offensively gifted defenseman who will be counted on to lead Team USA’s blue line corps throughout this tournament. This past season, he produced 39 points (17 goals, 22 assists) in 41 NCAA games for the Michigan Wolverines… as a freshman. In this game, his impeccable skating stride and ability to move the puck were noticeable as the Americans completely stifled the Germans outshooting them 50-11 in this contest. Hughes himself had three shots on goal to lead all USA defensemen in that category.
Hughes was also a brick wall on the blue line. In the third period, he smoothly erased a German scoring chance by outskating his opponent and then stripping the puck like a thief in the night. He was the best American on the ice and for his efforts, he was awarded the Player of the Game for his team.
Team USA Owned the Offensive Zone
If you watched the game, you noticed the Americans possess two important skills. They have speed and they move the puck extremely well. When Hughes scored their first goal, they had to that point outshot Team Germany 13-0. Most of that was by sheer dominance in the offensive zone.
In the first two periods, the Germans had only mustered six shots on goal which was due to the Americans completely dominating the time of possession. They controlled the puck in the offensive zone, and on more than one occasion the Germans struggled to get the puck out of their end and were exhausted getting to the bench. If it were not for the play of Quapp in the German goal, the score would have been embarrassing.
The Americans used their speed to create space and opportunities and included their defense in that puck movement. Although Germany was not a strong opponent, it was evident that the Americans play well as a unit and share the puck efficiently. They will need to continue this facet of their game as the tournament continues, but it is definitely going to be a factor in any success they have.
Maple Leaf Fans Should Be Excited About Matt Knies
Golden Gopher fans at the University of Minnesota know what the Toronto Maple Leafs are getting in Matthew Knies. The Leafs’ second-round pick in 2021 skated for Team USA at the Beijing Olympics and recorded a goal and an assist in four games with the club.
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, he is a big, physical winger who is strong and rugged enough to play in the dirty areas, but skilled enough with the puck to create scoring chances for himself and his linemates. He uses his size to establish space and separation allowing him to be opportunistic in terms of producing offence.
Knies’ game is very similar to Winnipeg Jets center Pierre-Luc Dubois, who also uses his incredible strength and size to score a majority of his goals from within 10 feet of the net. Like Dubois, Knies enjoys playing in the corners as well as in front of the net and mixing it up with the opposition. Maple Leafs fans should be keeping an eye on this young man, as they are likely to see him in the lineup in the very near future.
Knies was held off the scoreboard but was a noticeable presence throughout the game. He had an assist on what was thought to be the Americans’ fifth marker halfway through the second period in a goal-mouth scramble that resulted in Matthew Coronato putting in a loose puck. Knies had batted the puck out of the air a couple of times prior to that and although Coronato scored, the referee waived the goal off on the spot.
In a bizarre scenario, officials took over eight minutes looking at video review to overturn the call and allow the goal. The German coach then challenged the play for goaltender interference, of which the referees went back to the video for another five minutes to revert the call to disallow the goal and then issue a cross-checking penalty to Knies. The whole thing took more than 13 minutes to sort out and is something the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) will need to address moving forward.
Next Up for Team USA
It was a good start for the Americans as they look to defend their WJC title. Yes, it was an overpowering performance over an inferior opponent, but it gave us a sneak peek into the skills they possess moving forward. I am certain they will sharpen their offensive finish and be a definite force as the tournament progresses. Team USA takes to the ice again Thursday, Aug. 11, when they take on Switzerland at 9 PM EST.
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Keith Forsyth is a freelance writer and sports junkie from rural Manitoba who is covering the Winnipeg Jets for The Hockey Writers. Keith loves all sports and is a huge fan of the NFL (Skol Vikings… if you know, you know) and the Montreal Expos (they’re coming back… you watch!). He recently retired from the education world teaching high school, where his greatest passion was coaching young athletes. He brings that same logical, behind the bench type of approach to you as he delivers an insightful look into the NHL and specifically the Jets. For interview requests or content info, follow Keith on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo on articles like this one.