In the first game of the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, Team USA defeated Team Latvia 5-2 in Moncton, New Brunswick. After a slow first period, Team USA was able to find its footing and pull off a win against a rather resilient Team Latvia. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Momentum Needs to Be Consistent
One key to maintaining Team USA’s success will be their ability to keep the momentum going through all three periods of play. In this game, they got off to a slow start in the first period and didn’t settle into consistent play until the third. Team USA and Team Latvia were held scoreless through the first 20 minutes of play, with shots remaining reasonably even. In the second period, Team USA showed flashes of speed that led to some of their first real chances of the afternoon.
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Coming into the second-period Team USA seemed much more energetic, with 2022 St. Louis Blues draft pick Jimmy Snuggerud scoring early to make it 1-0. However, they would remain rocky throughout the period, as Latvian forward Anri Ravinskis was able to get around Team USA captain Luke Hughes and score to tie the game. The teams would go back and forth throughout the period, with USA’s Sean Behrens scoring to make it 2-1 and Latvia’s Niks Fenenko tying the game to end the period.
It wasn’t until the third period that Team USA truly showcased what they’re known for. The Americans put on a great display of their speed and puck-attacking nature from the beginning of the period, something the team has been routinely praised for as being one of their best attributes. 2021 Winnipeg Jets draft pick Chaz Lucius scored first to make it 3-2 and from there Latvia was unable to regain control of the game.
As Team USA moves on through the tournament, it will be a test for them to see if they’re able to maintain the level of play they brought out in the third period of this game against tougher opponents.
Multi-Point Game for NHL Prospects
Team USA had several NHL draft picks shine throughout the game, including three players who recorded multi-point games. Red Savage, 2021 Detroit Red Wings pick, recorded one goal and one assist, Dylan Duke, 2021 Tampa Bay Lightning pick, recorded two assists, and Sean Behrens, 2021 Colorado Avalanche pick, recorded one goal and one assist.
Related: Team USA 2023 WJC Players to Watch
Ten different players recorded points against Latvia, with five different goal scorers on the scoresheet. With a roster full of recent NHL draft picks, these are the players Team USA wants to see performing to the best of their ability, especially the higher-end selections that are almost guaranteed to play in the NHL sooner rather than later.
In the third period, Hughes, the former fourth overall pick of the New Jersey Devils, scored to make the game 5-2. He is also the only Hughes brother to ever score at the World Juniors, with his two older brothers Jack and Quinn never recording a goal when they played for Team USA. Logan Cooley, the third overall pick of the Arizona Coyotes, recorded an assist on Snuggeruds’ goal but remained goalless himself through the game.
Uncertainty in Net
One uncertainty for Team USA going into this tournament was their goaltending. In this game, they went with 17-year-old Trey Augustine. He is appearing in his first World Juniors tournament and currently plays for the United States National Under-18 team and is committed to Michigan State University. He is also 2023 Draft eligible.
Augustine was not kept too busy throughout the game, with Latvia only registering 17 shots on goal. However, he did let two goals in during the second period when Latvia was able to generate a few good chances.
Moving forward, it’s likely we’ll see another goalie get a look for Team USA. Currently on their roster is Kaidan Mbereko, who plays for Colorado College. He was on the 2022 World Juniors team where the Americans finished in 5th place. The Saginaw Spirit goalie Andrew Oke also returns to Team USA after playing in 2022.
It’s expected to see one of them in net for the next game, as Team USA tries to determine their starting goaltender moving forward.
Up Next for Team USA
Continuing in the preliminary round, Team USA will play back-to-back against Team Slovakia on Wednesday, Dec. 28, and then Team Switzerland on Dec. 29, before finishing off the round against Finland on New Year’s Eve.
Switzerland and Finland could prove to be challenges for Team USA. Finland is the reigning silver medalist in the 2022 tournament, losing to Canada in overtime. Switzerland, while usually regarded as a weaker opponent, managed to pull off the upset and beat Finland in their first game played on Day 1.