Before the Americans start their tournament with a matchup against Russia on Christmas Day, they hit the ice for an exhibition game against Finland. Without much playing time together prior to the warm-up game, the team relied on those returning players to make an impact prior to the tournament.
The scouting report for Team USA revolves around a top-heavy forward group and solid goaltending, and the performance from the team in its first game matched expectations. Goaltender Spencer Knight gave up both of the team’s goals against on the power play before being replaced by Calgary Flames prospect Dustin Wolf halfway through the game. With Team USA dominating much of the offensive pressure at even-strength, the returning forwards for the Americans led by example in the last game before it counts.
Right Wing, University of Wisconsin Montreal Canadiens
Caufield led the way offensively for the Americans, exploding for two quick goals in the second period, the latter acting as the game-winner. After cashing in on a nifty pass from Trevor Zegras at the end of his shift, Caufield’s line stayed on the ice, and the winger put together the best goal you’ve seen since the Stanley Cup was awarded.
Caufield took a great pass from Jake Sanderson, this year’s fifth-overall pick, and made no mistake coming around the net for his second goal in 35 seconds. After a disappointing performance at last year’s tournament, Caufield has all the momentum heading into the opener. Despite being the odd man out on the first line in the exhibition, he meshed well with the team’s other top three forwards on the power play as they cashed in with the man advantage as well.
Center, Boston University Anaheim Ducks
Zegras picked up where he left off in last year’s tournament where he led the team with nine assists but failed to score a goal. He picked up two more assists in the exhibition, including the primary assist on Caufield’s first goal. The Anaheim Ducks prospect will be looking to have another strong showing at the tournament in the hopes of cracking the roster after he returns.
Aside from his strong showing on the stat sheet, Zegras was all over the ice throughout the game, generating chances seemingly every time he stepped on the ice. After a brief injury scare early in the game, there was little doubt that the 19-year-old came ready to play. His top line had a great game and should continue to impress when the games count.
LW, Hamilton Bulldogs Los Angeles Kings
Kaliyev had a rough start to the game but made up for it by the end of the opening frame.
A checking from behind minor put the Finns on the power play early, and Kaliyev served a 10-minute misconduct following the opposition’s power-play goal. After finally returning to the ice with mere minutes to go in the first period, the Americans had several opportunities on the power play, but were initially unable to convert. With just seconds remaining in the first, Kaliyev took a pass from Minnesota Wild prospect Matthew Boldy below the goal line and was able to score.
It was the team’s lone power-play goal on its several opportunities, but the pressure created should hint at more special teams conversions to come. After potting four goals in five tournament games last year, Kaliyev should continue to see opportunities to put the puck in the net. The puck movement on the power play hinted at the team trying to get Kaliyev and Caufield as many opportunities as possible.
Center, University of Wisconsin Los Angeles Kings
Even though he didn’t crack the score sheet, Turcotte was very much a part of the action in the team’s win. The third member of a very strong first line with Zegras and Kaliyev, Turcotte was very prevalent on the rush and on the team’s power play. A teammate of Caufield’s at Wisconsin, the Los Angeles Kings prospect enters the tournament with an additional level of comfort after playing in the tournament a year ago.
Turcotte’s freshman season at Wisconsin saw him score nine goals and record 26 points in 29 games. He finished with just two assists at last year’s tournament, but a year of NCAA action should bode well for his ability to produce this year. Caufield’s experience in college has already translated, albeit in a warm-up game, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Turcotte on a highlight reel by tournament’s end.
Even with the offense as a clear strong spot, there are still some areas of improvement for the Americans. They outshot the Finns 45-16, but were still in a close game throughout, much of which can be attributed to discipline. The team’s two goals against both came on the power play, and staying out of the box could lead to some more comfortable victories.
The rust on the Americans was evident in the first few minutes, including when they gave up the opening goal, but eventually the team looked quite comfortable. This was particularly evident on the power play, which despite going 1-for-5, was actually very effective in generating chances. Production was also seen from some new faces, including Sanderson who assisted on Caufield’s goal, and Buffalo Sabres prospect Ryan Johnson, who was driving offense consistently from the back end, particularly early in the contest. With high-end talent and some unexpected producers, the team should be in good shape when the tournament opens up.
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Covering the New York Islanders and Seattle Kraken for The Hockey Writers. MBA Sports & Entertainment Management Candidate at Hofstra University. Formerly Marketing Intern with the American Flag Football League & Operations Intern for the Long Island Nets, G-League Affiliate of the Brooklyn Nets.