Team USA Flexes Muscles in Final Exhibition

After a dominating 14-0 performance Wednesday night in Jamestown, Team USA shifted 45 minutes west to Erie for one last tune-up before the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships. This time their opponent was one of the favorites of the tournament in Team Sweden. Both teams looked to establish themselves early.

But it was Team USA that got it going early and eventually came out on top.

Deadly Power Play

Team Sweden blinked first as top prospect Rasmus Dahlin found himself in the penalty box. Team USA wasted no time in making the Swedes pay.

Top prospect Quinn Hughes made a great play with the puck to allow Casey Mittelstadt open ice on the right-wing. He made no mistake and went bardown to give Team USA a 1-0 lead.

Team USA’s power play is deadly. When you can run two units out that can score almost at will and still have multiple first rounders not play the power play, you have something special. The combo of Hughes and Mittelstadt made the first goal happen. They made the second goal happen too.

With the score 1-1 late in the third period, Hughes fed Mittelstadt at the side of the net. Sweden’s Filip Gustavsson made the save, but left a juicy rebound for Kailer Yamamoto. Yamamoto went upstairs and scored the game-winning goal. Again, the power play came through in an otherwise tight game.

Team USA coach Bob Motzko said afterwards that there were a lot of good things we can draw from this win. “If any team expects to go on a run in a tournament like, it’s important to have the experience of a tight, competitive game like the one tonight. To come away with a win is huge and something we can build on entering this year’s tournament.”

Team USA’s Swarming Style

Make no mistake, Friday night’s game was tight checking throughout. There was a fight for every puck. There was very little room to make plays. Most rushes died in the neutral zone. When someone did get in for a scoring chance, the goalies made big saves.

What stood out to me was Team USA’s swarming style. Team Sweden is fast and highly skilled. Yet the Americans were able to contain the Swedes throughout limiting them to just 19 shots for the game. Many of those were not of the high-danger variety.

A big question coming into this year’s tournament for Team USA was their defense. If there was a perceived weakness, it was their blue line. At least for one night in an exhibition game against a great team, they did their job. They swarmed the Swedes and limited their chances.

If Team USA hopes to repeat as gold medalists, the defense will have to rise to the occasion when the games matter. Players like Hughes, Adam Fox and Dylan Samberg will need to play big minutes against the best of the opposition. Is the next Zach Werenski in this group? If so, it bodes well for Team USA’s chances in Buffalo.

Zach Werenski, Fantasy Hockey, Columbus Blue Jackets
Which defenseman could be the next Zach Werenski for Team USA? (Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Other Notes

Stars prospect Riley Tufte had himself a nice game despite not finding the scoresheet. He was in on at least four or five scoring chances. Tufte currently plays for the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Senators prospect Logan Brown thinks he has things to prove in this tournament. Speaking to him after the game, Brown admitted that being cut from last year’s team has given him motivation this season to show what he can do. The team will depend on him as one of their top centers in this tournament.

Team USA will make three more cuts sometime on Saturday. Defenseman Andrew Peeke is on the bubble. With one more cut coming on the blue line, Peeke expressed what anyone on the bubble feels.

“It’ll be nerve-wracking,” Peeke said. “I feel I’ve done enough to make this team. We’ll see now.”

Team USA is already in Buffalo getting ready for the tournament. They open play Tuesday night at Key Bank Center in Buffalo against Denmark. The puck drops just after 8:00 P.M. You can catch that game and all games for Team USA on the NHL Network.

Stay with the Hockey Writers all tournament long as our Nathaniel Oliver will be there throughout.

All the 2018 World Junior Championship Team Information:

Czech Republic — Team Preview — Roster

USA — Team PreviewRoster

Russia — Team Preview — Roster

Belarus — Team Preview — Roster

Canada — Team Preview — Roster

Denmark — Team Preview — Roster

Finland — Team PreviewRoster

Switzerland — Team PreviewRoster

Slovakia — Team Preview — Roster

Sweden — Team PreviewRoster

All Your THW 2018 World Junior Championship Coverage