With a surprisingly tough 3-0 win over Slovakia, the United States set itself up for a New Year’s Eve showdown with host Canada for first place in Group A.
Sonny Milano and Dylan Larkin scored for the United States, both lighting the red lamp for the second consecutive game, and John Hayden also tallied. Adding an assist on Milano’s goal, Larkin now has five points in his last two games.
Even though the Americans have won two of the last five gold medals and the Slovaks haven’t medaled since 1999 (bronze), this game remained 0-0 for nearly two periods.
“We had a lot of shots but nothing was really going in for the first two periods,” said Milano. “It was good that we just kept going and a couple went in.”
American goalie Thatcher Demko got his first career World Junior shutout versus Slovakia’s Denis Godla, who played well but made a couple of critical errors on the American goals. The Americans outshot Slovakia 45-17.
“We wanted to get at least one point, but without scoring a goal, you cannot get anything,” said Godla.
This was a lesson about the importance of focus and patience for an American squad with an average age of 18. They were unable to pull away and dominate as they did in a 6-0 romp over Germany the night before.
Still undefeated, the Americans will likely face their stiffest test to date in the form of a motivated Team Canada, seeking its first gold since 2009.
“I’m pretty excited,” said U.S. captain Jack Eichel. “It’s always a lot of fun when you play Canada. It’s always a battle. So we know that it’s going to be a tough 60 minutes and they’re not going to hand it over to us.”
Since getting hammered 8-0 by Canada in their opener, the Slovaks have proved they’re capable of at least hanging in there with the big teams. They have one preliminary round game left, Tuesday against pointless Germany.
The U.S. outshot Slovakia 10-3 in a scoreless first period, but it wasn’t as if the Slovaks lacked good chances. With about three minutes left in the first period, Demko made an excellent right pad save on Matúš Sukeľ from point-blank range to preserve the deadlock.
The San Diego-raised netminder made another great close-in stop on Peter Cehlárik in the opening minute of the second period. Minutes later, Slovakia’s Róbert Lantoši had a breakaway, but bobbled the puck and fired wide as he curled in front of the American net.
The Americans continued to fire pucks on Godla from all angles, but had a hard time getting into prime scoring areas, and couldn’t fool him. But that would change.
With 2:18 left in the middle frame, the U.S. finally broke through. Milano blazed down left wing, cut toward the net, and lifted the puck from a bad angle near the goal line past Godla on the short side. It was the second goal of the tournament for the 18-year-old Plymouth Whalers star, noted for his puckhandling wizardry.
“We were struggling to get our first one, and they said it would be an ugly one,” said Larkin.
Just 2:38 into the third period, the U.S. made it 2-0. Larkin beat Godla with another bad angle shot, seconds after the netminder had foiled Milano from the slot.
“There was some frustration with some guys, but we’re pretty persistent and we kept shooting,” Larkin said.
With six and a half minutes left, Godla gave his team a chance to stay in it, foiling Hudson Fasching with a glove save on a 2-on-1 rush. Shortly afterwards, he slid across to deny a pinching Brandon Carlo. Unfortunately, Godla’s teammates couldn’t generate any offense to reward his efforts.
With Eichel off for slashing in the late stages, the Slovaks had one more golden opportunity to get on the board. Nothing doing.
Hayden rounded out the scoring with 53 seconds left.|
“I felt really good but the game didn’t really go our way,” said Godla.
The Americans have now defeated Slovakia 11 times at the IIHF World Junior Championship, losing three times and tying once.
Slovakia’s last win over the U.S. came at the 2009 tournament in Ottawa, where goalie Jaroslav Janus famously made 44 saves in a 5-3 quarter-final upset.
IHLC: With the win, the Americans retain the International Hockey Lineal Championship, their 12th title, which they won from Sweden in August and have since retained in wins over Finland and Germany at this year’s Worlds. This marks just the second IHLC meeting between the U.S. and Slovakia in history, the first a narrow 1-0 American victory at the 1999 World Juniors in Skellefteå, Sweden. The Americans now look to their rivals, Canada, for their New Year’s Eve showdown, with medal round positioning and the IHLC on the line.
08:05 – PEN – Holenda, delay of game
12:17 – PEN – Eichel, roughing
37:42 – GOAL – Milano (Larkin)
42:38 – GOAL – Larkin
55:05 – PEN – Eichel, slashing
59:07 – GOAL – Hayden (Carlo, Matthews)
W: Demko (17-17)
L: Godla (42-45)
SHOTS ON GOAL
10+21+14 = 45
3+11+3 = 17
Goaltenders: Thatcher Demko, Brandon Halverson. Defence: Will Butcher (A), Brandon Carlo, Ryan Collins, Anthony DeAngelo, Noah Hanifin, Ian McCoshen, Zach Werenski. Forwards: J.T. Compher, Chase De Leo, Jack Eichel (C), Hudson Fasching, John Hayden (A), Dylan Larkin, Anthony Louis, Auston Matthews, Sonny Milano, Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz, Alex Tuch, Miles Wood.
Goaltenders: Daniel Gibl, Denis Godla. Defence: Patrik Bačik, Marco Hochel, Matúš Holenda, Christián Jaroš, Dominik Jendroľ, Branislav Pavúk, Mislav Rosandič (A). Forwards: Radovan Bondra, Peter Cehlárik, Michal Kabáč, Patrik Koyš (A), Róbert Lantoši, Matej Paulovič, Samuel Petráš, Dominik Rehák, Martin Réway (C), Pavol Skalický, Dávid Šoltés, Matúš Sukeľ.