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  • World Junior Hockey 2017: USA takes down Team Canada, with Jordan Greenway leading the way


    For Minnesota Wild fans, Saturday was a day of hype and excitement surrounding its early evening matchup with the also streaking Columbus Blue Jackets, in a historic game for both sides.  To whet fans’ appetites, Team USA took on their neighbors to the north earlier in the day in their last preliminary-round game of the 2017 WJC, an equally hyped tilt that featured two enormously skilled teams loaded with NHL prospects.  USA Coach Bob Motzko and company would look for a fast-paced and heavy game to compete with the elite skill of Dylan Strome, Taylor Raddysh, Thomas Chabot, Tyson Jost, and the rest of Team Canada.  Despite some penalty trouble, Motzko got a very impressive effort from his entire team, who really looked like the better side for most of the afternoon.

    After killing one of those penalties early, Team USA got on the board first on a power play of its own.  Beastly Wild prospect Jordan Greenway received a pass down low and quickly saucered it to the front of the net, where Colin White had planted himself right in the middle of the four-player box of Canada’s penalty kill.  Nobody from Team Canada even touched White, who one-timed the puck home, giving the Americans the lead just four minutes into the game.  The goal meant that White had now scored in all four preliminary games for the United States.  Canada took its second penalty just minutes later, and Greenway would make his presence known once again.  He received another pass at the goal line, this time from Clayton Keller, in almost the same spot that he received the pass on the first goal.  Rather than moving the puck to a teammate this time, Greenway turned and drove hard to the net, using every inch of his giraffe-like reach to open up goaltender Connor Ingram.  Greenway tucked the puck between Ingram’s pads, giving the US a 2-0 lead in the first seven minutes of the game, another perfect start for the Stars and Stripes.  Later in the period, with Adam Fox already in the penalty box for cross-checking, Charlie McAvoy pushed goaltender Joseph Woll’s stick back to him, after it had slid behind the net.  Clearly McAvoy did not know the rule of IIHF hockey that you must pick up the goalie’s stick to return it to him, and he was sent off, giving Canada a two-man advantage for a full minute.  With Woll making a couple of big-time saves, USA killed off the penalties, a huge moment early in the game and a bullet dodged.  It was a phenomenal first period for Team USA, but it was clear even heading into the intermission that Team Canada would certainly come out with fire in the second frame.

    Wisconsin Badger and future Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin crushed Philippe Myers behind Canada’s net early in the second period.  Myers’ head jerked back as he slammed into the boards, and the big defender was down on the ice for a while, looking a bit dazed.  From the replay, it was hard to tell if Kunin made contact with Myers’ chin, or if it was a clean hit that ended badly.  Either way, Kunin was given a harsh punishment, a five-minute major and a game misconduct.  Now without their captain for the rest of the game, the US started the penalty kill off well, eating away three minutes, before Charlie McAvoy took another penalty, giving Canada its second two-man advantage of the afternoon, this one for almost a full two minutes.  Canada would capitalize this time, as a point shot from the right side hit bodies in front and pinballed to the left point, where Thomas Chabot received and fired the puck into an open net.  Considering the circumstances, escaping with only one goal against was probably a good scenario for the US, as it maintained a 2-1 lead when Kunin’s five-minute penalty finally expired.   The Americans would quickly respond, with Greenway once again leading the charge.  After making a nice play in the neutral zone to gain possession and enter the offensive zone, Greenway got the puck back at the top of the right face-off circle.  He fired a heavy wrist shot on Ingram, which bounced off his pad and went straight to Jeremy Bracco who fired home the rebound.  It was a huge goal for the US, as it killed the momentum that Team Canada had started to build and put the margin back to two goals.  With thirty seconds left in the period, Ingram gave Canada a mental boost as it headed into the locker room, denying Minnesota-Duluth’s Joey Anderson on a clear breakaway with an enormous glove save to keep hope alive for Team Canada. 

    Ingram then started the third period in the same way he finished it, as Patrick Harper blocked a shot and was then off to the races on another clear breakaway for USA.  Ingram calmly turned the shot aside, and was able to cover the rebound, another potential game-saving moment for Ingram, should Canada end up finding its way back into the game.  They would fail to do so, however, as Canada’s best opportunity to get on the board in the third period came when Kieffer Bellows was penalized for tripping, on a marginal call at best.  During the manpower advantage, American players were diving and sliding all over the ice to try to get their bodies in front of shots, and Woll was equal to the task as well, as the US killed the penalty and took all remaining wind out of Team Canada’s sails.  Then, with four minutes left, Pierre-Luc Dubois took a boneheaded unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by skating all the way into the US zone after an offside call and casually sliding the puck into the net.  It was not a smart decision, as the completely unnecessary penalty sealed Canada’s fate and an enormous victory for Team USA, who also earned a Group B win with a perfect 4-0 record.

    Despite Kunin’s ejection in the second period, the game was another feather in the cap of the Minnesota Wild’s scouting staff, as their prospects continue to have great tournaments.  Greenway was all over the puck, played a physical game, and factored on each of USA’s three goals, scoring one and assisting on the other two.  Every team in the NHL (other than Minnesota) may end up kicking themselves for passing on the 6’-5” forward, because Greenway was the best player on the ice in a game highlighted by an array of future stars.  Before his ejection, Kunin had a prime chance to score with just under a minute in the first period, but his one-timer from the low slot was deflected just over the net.  It was unfortunate that he was assessed such a severe penalty on his hit on Myers, as it did not look overly egregious on replay, and its debatable whether he even made contact with Myers’ chin.  Kunin surely felt guilty for putting his team in a bad situation, but his teammates picked him up and played a fantastic game in their captain’s absence.

    The USA now enters the quarterfinals with extremely high hopes of medaling, and it could now be considered one of the tournament favorites, after having proven that they can beat some of the most highly touted teams in the WJC. USA’s next game will be Monday, though time and opponent are yet to be determined.  

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