In the most stunning upset at the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championships, Team USA failed to repeat as champions when they found themselves on the wrong side of a 4-2 score against Team Czechia in the opening round of playoffs.
The Americans took a first-period lead on a goal by Logan Cooley from a crazy bounce off the boards on a puck that was dumped into the Czechia zone. Play in the first period was pretty even on both sides as they went to the intermission tied 1-1. From that point on, they were overmatched by a Czech team that had been embarrassed by Latvia on Sunday. They came out to prove they were better than they had shown in their final preliminary round game, and they simply dominated Team USA in the final 40 minutes of this quarter-final match.
Team USA was Thoroughly Outplayed in the 2nd Period
Trailing 3-1 heading into the second intermission, the Americans failed to push back in the third and didn’t play with any sense that they were on the verge of elimination. Not something those that followed the team expected to see.
During the four-game preliminary round, the Americans put on a show of force demonstrating that speed and forechecking were their key to success. The Czechs completely stymied that facet of their game on Wednesday. After an evenly played first period that saw Team USA put up 16 shots on Czech goaltender Tomas Suchanek, they managed just 12 throughout the rest of the game.
In a complete reversal of what we saw during round-robin play, the Americans were not the team forcing the play and dictating the pace, rather they were on the receiving end of it in this game. They managed a measly four shots on goal in the second period and were completely outmuscled by the Czechs.
Related: Czechia Players to Watch at 2022 WJC
The Czechs were by far the better team in the second period. They won the puck battles, were the aggressors along the boards and dictated play. Their efforts were rewarded with the only two goals of the period, both on rushes. Petr Hauser and Matyas Sapovaliv scored three minutes apart midway through the second to take a 3-1 lead that became insurmountable for Team USA.
Czechs Got Better Goaltending
While the game cannot be blamed on American starting goalie Kaidan Mbereko, he did get outplayed by his counterpart at the other end of the ice. While Suchanek was Czechia’s Player of the Game, Mbereko wasn’t able to match his performance.
Being barely tested in the preliminary round may have had something to do with it. When the Americans needed him to step up, he failed to do so. The first two Czech goals were not necessarily his fault, as the first one was a deflection and the second was a wrist shot under the crossbar from the slot. The third, however, and the one that seemed to seriously deflate the Americans, was a wrist shot from distance that handcuffed Mbereko and by all measures was a weak goal. In an elimination playoff game, especially when your team is being outplayed, those shots need to be stopped.
When the Czechs pushed, the Americans didn’t have an answer and their netminder didn’t bail them out either. Goaltending needs to be lights out in an elimination tournament and unfortunately for Team USA that was not the case. Pre-tournament reports had goaltending being the biggest weakness on this American roster, and when it counted, those ended up being accurate.
The Americans never really bounced back from the third Czech goal. Their play was uninspired, there was no pushback in their game and the Czechs were definitely the better team on this night. Highlighting their frustration was a needless and selfish five-minute major penalty that Brett Berard took for slew-footing Czech defensman David Jiricek. That penalty sank Team USA’s best shot at coming out for a strong third period.
Team USA’s Preliminary Round was Too Easy
The Americans may have been a victim of their schedule, as they routed Germany, Switzerland and Austria rather effortlessly. Their skill set alone won those games in which they had little to no opposition, as they were able to dictate the speed and flow of those games with basically no resistance, with the second half of those games being played out with the outcome already determined.
More to the point, Mbereko was barely tested in those games. The game against Sweden was more competitive and in their 3-2 victory, he again saw little action because his team dominated in front of him. Even then, the first Swedish goal was one he would have liked to have had back.
This game was the first time in the tournament that Team USA trailed and they simply failed to demonstrate they had the fortitude to overcome a setback and push through. Early on, they appeared overconfident, then once they fell behind they panicked and were unable to get back to playing their style of hockey.
The loss eliminates the Americans from play and for only the second time in seven years, they will fail to medal at the World Juniors. Team Czechia, led by Jiricek, now faces another daunting task when it faces Team Canada in the semi-finals Friday, Aug. 19. Game time is 3 PM EST.
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|Team USA||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Austria||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Czechia||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Finland||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Germany||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Sweden||Players to Watch||Roster|
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