After winning Group B, the United States found themselves paired against a pesky Switzerland team in the quarterfinals of the World Hockey Championships. A hard-working Swiss team played a solid game against the United States, with the shot total favoring Todd Richards’ men 24-22.
The United States fell behind early in the game. Roman Josi, star defenseman from the Nashville Predators, weaved in between the entire United States defense and beat Connor Hellebuyck far side. Josi began in his own defensive zone, gained speed through the neutral zone, and walked right around Jake Gardiner to score. The US fell victim to puck watching, failing to make a play on Josi, who entered the zone unchallenged.
Other than Josi’s awe-inspiring goal, the United States executed their game plan well. They outshot the Swiss 9-4 in the period, causing Reto Berra to stay alert while not allowing the Swiss to generate many scoring chances.
Two quick scores stunned Switzerland, elevating the United States into the lead. They never looked back.
Ben Smith and Charlie Coyle struck within 54 seconds to tally the only goals of the period. Jimmy Vesey, who’s play has increased over the course of the tournament, created offense by curling around the net and finding Smith in front of the net to tie the game. Vesey raced past Julian Walker and picked his head up once around the net. Smith had backed off ever so slightly from the mouth of the goal, creating space for him to rip a wrist shot past Bera from the middle of the slot. Vesey’s speed and strength has made him a pain for any opponent to defend. His poise has grown over the course of the tournament, allowing the Harvard product to feel more comfortable with the puck and make an impact.
Coyle redirected a rocket from the point by Seth Jones, knuckling past Berra short side. Jones had time to step into his shot and sent a thigh-high screamer towards the net. A late addition to the team after the Minnesota Wild were swept by the Chicago Blackhawks, Coyle brings additional proven talent to this United States squad. Later in the period, Coyle had a wide open net off of a great ‘point-pass’, yet was unable to finish the scoring the chance. After failing to control the puck well, Coyle slapped at it and missed the net.
Hellebuyck robbed Damian Brunner with a spectacular glove save, rolling his wrist over to corral the puck and not allow a second chance scoring opportunity. It was the most glamourous of the 21 he made over the course of the contest.
Although Switzerland was facing elimination and had their collective backs against the wall, they failed to the necessary effort to break through the United States’ solid defense. With two and half minutes left, the Swiss tested Hellebuyck twice from in close, but the American stood his ground, remaining composed and guiding away the shot attempts.
Jake Gardiner added insurance midway through the period when his wrist shot from the point found its way through a screen and into the back of the net. Berra was shielded by his own defenseman and lost track of the puck. The goal gave the United States insurance as time in the game was beginning to run thin.
Connor Hellebuyck was sensational again, stopping .956% of Switzerland’s shots on net. He now boasts six wins, a shutout, 1.32 goals against average, and a .941 save percentage.
The United States played a full sixty minutes, showing that they can string together a complete effort after appearing flat at points against Slovakia. They will need the same type of complete game when they battle the Russians in the semifinals. It is the second trip in the past three years to the semifinals for the United States. Russia is loaded with stars, such as Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis Blues), Evgeni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins), and Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets). Even though the United States lack the household names and have eight players on their roster who don’t compete in the NHL, the cohesiveness and ability to find a way to win should challenge the Russians. The game is slated to a great one, a battle between two of hockey’s finest to determine which team will compete for the gold medal.