Slovakia’s Samuel Buček put on a one-man show to score the winning goal at 17:52 of the third to give his nation an unexpected 3-2 win over the U.S.
Buček roared down the left side, went behind the American goal when Joseph Woll over-committed, and tried to tuck the puck in the back side. Woll made a great lunging save, but Buček got the rebound and found the net.
Buček also assisted on the other two Slovakian goals, both scored by Filip Krivošík.
The Americans got goals from Brady Tkachuk and Casey Mittelstadt.
“I drove in and faked a shot, and the defenceman dived in,” Buček described. “I went wraparound and the goalie made the save, but then I saw the loose puck there, and I just put it in.”
One thing must be made clear. Yes, the Americans were heavy favourites coming into the game. Yes, their loss was stunning. But, the Slovaks deserve all the credit in the world for the win. They got timely scoring, played great defence, and got the better goaltending.
It was the first Slovak win over the U.S. at the World Juniors since the 2009 quarter-finals, a string of six losses in between.
“I remember that game,” Buček recalled. “I was a kid watching with my parents, and you know, something was going through my head. I’m like, ‘I want to be here one day and want to accomplish the same as what the Slovakians did in 2002 [winning World Championship gold].’ We did it tonight. And it’s just something amazing. It’s a big moment for our country and our hockey.”
The result puts the U.S. and Slovakia in second place with Finland, all three nations with three points in the Group A standings behind Canada (six).
Goaltender Roman Durny was the hero for the winners, stopping 43 of 45 shots. Joseph Woll was a bit uneven in the U.S. net and faced 25 shots.
“This was the biggest game of my life,” Durny enthused. “We have to enjoy the win but then on our day off tomorrow get ready for our next game.”
“You can’t take anyone for granted,” Mittelstadt lamented. “We’ve just got to be better, plain and simple. We’re excited to get out there tomorrow, but at the same time, we’re definitely disappointed in tonight.”
It was a game of few scoring chances and even fewer goals, but in the end the Slovaks showed a resilience the Americans couldn’t match.
The scoreless first period featured an American team that dominated puck possession but couldn’t penetrate the Slovakian defence or get many clear chances on goal.
Tkachuk hit the post with one shot and Buček made a nice dash in on goal, crashing into Woll as the puck rolled by the goal.
In a game like this, the superior team had to be patient, and that’s what the Americans were. But instead of being rewarded, they found themselves trailing 1-0 at 4:52 of the second period.
Krivošík skated down the right wing on a three-on-one, but he saw an opening and instead of trying to pass he beat Woll between the pads to give the visitors a shocking lead.
But the Americans did not respond to the challenge right away. They took a penalty, and on the ensuing power play Marian Studenič had two nice chances to give Slovakia a 2-0 lead. He missed on the first and Woll came up with the big save on the second, and a short time later the Americans finally created—and converted—a nice chance.
Even that came as a result of a counter-attack after another good Slovak scoring chance. Ryan Poehling drove down the right side and fed a perfect saucer pass to Tkachuk cutting to the net. Tkachuk controlled the puck, made a slick deke, and tucked the puck five hole on Durny, who had been impressive in goal for Slovakia.
The Americans had a great chance to take the lead in the third when Mittelstadt set up Kailer Yamamoto for a point blank shot, but Durny was right there.
And then, the improbable happened. Krivošík took advantage of a turnover behind the U.S net and swiped a backhand from in front that somehow found the back of the net at 15:15.
That seemed to be the game winner, but the game was, in fact, far from over.
A minute and a half later, Mittelstadt scored a highlight-reel goal, stealing the puck at the Slovak blue line, deking one player and then Durny to tuck the puck home for a 2-2 tie at 16:49.
Slovakia would not take disappointment this night, however. Buček replied with a stunner of his own, giving Slovakia an incredible victory.
“This is unreal,” Studenič enthused. “This is like a dream. This is the first time I’ve beaten an opposing team like the USA. For our small country, it’s like winning the Stanley Cup. I’m so proud of these guys. We worked like a team, and we won. We wanted to play our hockey and be good on defence. We knew we could score some goals on an odd-man rush or stuff like that.”
The U.S. now has to collect its thoughts before playing Canada in the outdoor game tomorrow. Slovakia has a day off before facing Finland on Saturday.
IHLC: With the surprise victory, Slovakia captures the International Hockey Lineal Championship, only their third junior title in history, and first since the Four Nations Cup in 2005. This was the third IHLC meeting between the Slovaks and Americans in history, with the U.S. winning both previous meetings at the Worlds in 1999 and 2014. As a result of the win, the IHLC will next be defended when Slovakia faces Finland in Group A play, and will miss the outdoor game between the U.S. and Canada tomorrow at New Era Field in Orchard Park.
24:52 – GOAL – Krivošík (Buček)
26:52 – PEN – Lindgren, throwing a stick
31:07 – GOAL – Tkachuk (Poehling, J. Anderson)
38:16 – PEN – Bodák, hooking
50:05 – PEN – Fehérváry, holding
55:15 – GOAL – Krivošík (Buček)
56:49 – GOAL – Mittelstadt
57:52 – GOAL – Buček
W: Durny (43-45)
L: Woll (22-25)
SHOTS ON GOAL
5+8+12 = 25
9+18+18 = 45
Goaltenders: Roman Durny, Dávid Hrenák. Defence: Martin Bodák (C), Martin Fehérváry (A), Samuel Fereta, Tomáš Hedera, Michal Ivan, Marek Korenčík, Dávid Matejovič, Vojtech Zeleňák. Forwards: Samuel Buček, Viliam Cacho (A), Miloš Kelemen, Filip Krivošík, Peter Kundrik, Adam Liška, Miloš Roman, Adam Růžička, Erik Smolka, Samuel Solenský, Marian Studenič, Alex Tamáši.
Goaltenders: Jake Oettinger, Joseph Woll. Defence: Mikey Anderson, Adam Fox (A), Quinn Hughes, Ryan Lindgren (A), Andrew Peeke, Scott Perunovich, Dylan Samberg. Forwards: Joey Anderson (C), Kieffer Bellows, Logan Brown, Trent Frederic, Patrick Harper, Max Jones, Will Lockwood, Casey Mittelstadt, Josh Norris, Ryan Poehling, Brady Tkachuk, Riley Tufte, Kailer Yamamoto.