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  • World Junior Hockey 2017: USA dominates Slovakia


    If the margin of victory in Team USA’s opening match-up, a 6-1 win over Latvia on Monday, seemed a little too large based on its performance, Wednesday’s game had the opposite feeling.  While there was hardly any doubt in this one that the Americans would come out on top, the final score of 5-2 doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how much they dominated this game over Slovakia.  The Americans fully controlled the opening ten minutes for the second time in as many games, though once again, it took some time for them to get on the board, with University of North Dakota goaltender Matej Tomek holding his team in the game throughout the opening frame.  Even so, this contest never had the “anyone’s game” feel that the match-up against Latvia had after one period.  After giving up a slew of odd-man rushes in the first thirty minutes of that game on Monday, the US limited Slovakia to one odd-man rush and two power plays in the first period Wednesday.  USA’s play just got better and better as the night went on, and the game was out of reach by the halfway point of the second.  It was a much more sound approach for the Americans, whose defensemen were far too aggressive in their WJC opener. 

    Team USA got the scoring started at the ten-minute mark of the first period, after Tomek made a fantastic sprawling save with his right leg pad.  Ohio State’s Tanner Laczynski was on the doorstep to receive the rebound, and he was able to pop the puck over the prone netminder.  The Americans would score again seven minutes later, when Colin White registered his second goal of the tournament after a Slovak defender blew a tire in the neutral zone, giving team USA a clear cut three-on-one rush that ended with Clayton Keller firing a perfect pass across the netmouth for White to tap in.  White, an Ottawa Senators prospect, and Keller, an Arizona Coyotes prospect, have each had two great games to start the tournament, and they both look to have very bright futures ahead of them.  The US will certainly hope to see the two forwards continue to pile up points as the tournament rolls on.  Slovakia did respond with a power play goal with under two minutes to go in the first period, when Martin Fehervary finished a perfect pass across the top of the crease.  With the way that the US dominated the period, though, having the lead going into the intermission gave a feel that there was no question which team would ultimately win the game, assuming the US continued with its gameplan for the remainder.

    Tage Thompson pushed the lead back to two goals just a couple minutes into the second frame, with the prettiest goal of the tournament so far for the United States.  With a delayed penalty on the way, Thompson took a pass at the top of the crease from Kieffer Bellows.  Receiving the pass with his back to the goaltender, Thompson smoothly turned his big body, switched the puck to his forehand, and lifted it over the pad of Tomek, all in seemingly one fluid motion.  It was a highlight reel goal for Thompson, and a sign that the US would cruise the rest of the game.  Six minutes later, an offensive zone face-off was drawn back to Jack Roslovic, who calmly slid the puck over to his defensive partner Charlie McAvoy.  McAvoy, with the puck teed up for him perfectly, was able to blast a one-timer from the point that found its way cleanly through traffic, beating Tomek and extending the lead to 4-1.  Finally, off of a nifty pass in the neutral zone from Luke Kunin, Troy Terry flew in over Slovakia’s blueline and rifled a wrist shot off the post and in.  It would end up being the last official goal of the night for the US, though it did have two more goals disallowed on questionable calls in the third period.  Slovakia’s Michal Roman would score the only goal of the third period (well… the only goal that actually counted), but in scoring with just 36 seconds left in the game, it was too little and way too late for the Slovaks.

    Despite allowing five goals on the night, Tomek actually had a very solid game, as he faced a fifty-shot barrage from the United States.  It is easy to see why the Philadelphia Flyers selected him with their third-round pick in the 2015 draft.  He is very skilled, and he kept this game much closer on the scoreboard than it should have been.

    Minnesota Wild prospects Kunin and Jordan Greenway again had solid games, playing most of the night on a line with Maple Leafs’ prospect Jeremy Bracco (who is going to be an absolute stud, by the way).  Kunin’s best play of the game was his sneaky little backhand pass to find Terry streaking through center ice, leading to a goal and giving Kunin his second point of the tournament.  Greenway did not register any points on the night and was a bit less involved physically, but he did make some nice plays, including setting up a second-period scoring chance by putting his shoulder into an oncoming defender while controlling the puck behind the net, and then shoveling it out into a prime scoring area.  Tomek made a good save on the play, but it was another example of Greenway’s abilities as a power forward, and an indication of why Minnesota should be excited to have found him late in the second round of the 2015 draft.

    USA will go right back to work at 2:30PM Central on Thursday against Russia, which of course features Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov.  The Russian captain leads the tournament in goals (4) and points (7) through two games.  It will be the first real test for Team USA, who has had an easy road so far.

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