There are many world tournaments in the sport of hockey that go unnoticed, one of them being the Under 18 IHF World Championships where the best and brightest players under 18 years of age around the world come together and compete. The event was in Fargo, North Dakota this year and the United States was looking to win gold on its home turf.
They did it in great style as they ended up defeating two of the top hockey countries in the world today. In the semifinals they took on Canada which had many players that are available in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The United States went down 1-0 before coming back and winning 2-1.
However that stiff test was the first of two as the United States was set to take on the Russians. Whether the Americans were just playing so well or the Russians had a bad game doesn’t matter as the United States won gold on its home turf by a score of 5-0. From the opening whistle to the final buzzer the USA showed its dominance scoring the game winning goal just over two minutes into the game as Cam Fowler put the USA up for good. Drew Shore led the United States with three assists and goaltender Jack Campbell stopped all 38 Russian shots that came his way.
Other USA goal scorers were Matt Nieto, Willian Wrenn, Chris Brown, and Ryan Bourque. The Russians had many talented players like Kirill Kabanov and Vladimir Tarasenko who finished with the second most points in the tournament with 15 points in six games. Fortunately for the United States, they were able to shut them down along with the rest of the Russian attack that featured four of the top ten scorers in the tournament.
What does this mean for USA Hockey from a development standpoint? It seems that the US is finally finding its stride in trying to keep up with the rest of the hockey world. Whether this was a minor miracle or a legitimate showing of a very good team remains to be seen but this gold medal will bring a smile to the rest of USA Hockey.
With the United States and Russia taking gold and silver, respectively, it was left up to Canada and Finland to decide the bronze medal. Canada had a 4-1 lead late in the second period but Toni Rajala, who entered the game with 15 points, lead the Finns back as they won in a shootout 5-4. Rajala finished the tournament with 19 points in 6 games to lead the pack. Finland had an impressive showing with two of the top three goal scorers with Rajala and Teemu Pulkkinen. Mikael Granlund finished sixth in scoring and was another impressive scorer for Finland which has been known for churning out goaltenders recently such as Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames and Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild. All three of these young players are eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in June.
But for me, I am happy that the United States is having success on the international level finally. The USA is by no means equal to Canada, Sweden, and Russia at the moment, but maybe this gold medal win is the start of success for the United States on the international level. Hockey has been growing as a sport among young people since the mid 1990s and the skill and success coupled with development is finally coming to fruition after nearly a decade of hard work by USA Hockey and its many affiliates around the country.
This is the first gold medal won by a USA hockey team on home soil since 1980 when the USA beat Finland in the gold medal game of the Winter Olympics. Now if the 2009 World Championship and 2010 Olympic Mens teams could be just as successful as the U18 team, the United States could be thrown back into conversation of best hockey nations in the world. Unlikely, but the United States has pulled out miracles on ice before.