The Swedes came, the Canadians saw, the Americans conquered.
The USA Hockey squad arrived in Ufa, Russia with an undersized group of forwards and a goaltender with something to prove. The team boasted a mighty defense corps, but many wondered if the Yanks even stood a chance to medal while playing in the same group as the two favorites, the host Russians and the powerful Canadians.
Last year, USA goaltender John Gibson struggled in his only start, allowing four goals against Team Finland. This time around, the Anaheim Ducks 2011 2nd round draft pick came out determined, combining for a shutout in the Americans’ tournament opener against Germany, along with backup goaltender Jon Gillies (0 GA in 3rd period).
The entire USA squad came out strong that game, scoring 19 seconds into the game. The team showed a lot of energy and great movement on the powerplay, lead by a goal, an assist, and a +5 performance from defenseman Seth Jones. Jones, the son of former NBA player and current Brooklyn Nets assistant coach Popeye Jones, featured excellent skating ability and fantastic puck movement. The Texas-native is currently in his draft year and could certainly develop into the coveted puck-moving defenseman and powerplay quarterback that NHL general managers are always on the lookout out for.
Asked how he instructs his defensemen to play, Head Coach Phil Housley answered, “I don’t show them video from my career.” Truth is, however he coached them up, it worked. The United States boasted easily the deepest defensive unit in the tournament at both ends of the ice. In addition to Jones, who finished the tournament with a 1, 6 – 7, +8, his D partner/Team USA Captain Jake McCabe (3, 3 – 6, +9) had a knack for scoring important goals. However, the strongest defensive performance in the tournament came from Jacob Trouba (4, 5 – 9, 23 SOG). More on him, later…
Following a strong showing in their first game of the tournament, USA dropped back-to-back, hard-fought 2-1 games to Russia and Canada. Against Canada, just when the Americans began to step up on offense, run around a little less, and pull within a goal, it was their own lack of discipline and some very untimely penalties that did them in. USA really seemed to be feeling it, before being forced to kill off multiple two-man disadvantages and the accompanying time on the game clock. Their own powerplay chance nearly yielded results at the end, but the clock ran out and the Americans found themselves at 1-2-0 in the standings.
USA bounced back with a decisive 9-3 win against Slovakia, a win that didn’t even feel as close as the wide margin on the scoreboard, followed by a 7-0 win against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, for Gibson’s first official shutout of the tournament. Jones added four assists, but the story of the game was Johnny Gaudreau’s hat trick, with all three goals coming on the powerplay.
Johnny Gaudreau, who led Boston College to an NCAA National Championship last season, played like he had just discovered fire in this game. This was truly his coming out party of the tournament, and the 5’9” 150 lb. “Johnny Hockey” stood tall and carried the torch throughout the rest of the playoff rounds. The puck just seemed to find this guy going forward, particularly on the powerplay, where he led the tournament with 4 PPG.
In the semifinal rematch with Team Canada, Captain McCabe opened the scoring with two very similar goals, each wrist shots through a screen from the high slot. The two snipes by the Wisconsin Badger were followed up by a goal from Gaudreau, before Gibson stole the show.
On the other end of the ice, a beauty by Harvard University’s Jim Vesey knocked Canadian goaltender Malcolm Subban out of the game at 4-0, and the period would end 4-1.
In the third period, the Americans went into their prevent defense, keeping two men high and being wary of the dangerous Canadian attack. Gibson robbed Canadian defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the Boston Bruins 2011 9th overall draft pick, point blank before Gaudreau added his second of the game to send Canada to the Bronze Medal Game.
In the Gold Medal Game, the Americans paired up with the defending champions, a Swedish team that was riding an 11 game tournament winning streak. Their last loss actually came two years earlier, to the day, in the Bronze Medal Game against USA. Sweden was coming off of a shootout win against a strong Russian team, limiting them to just two shots on goal in the first period (although replays confirmed that neither one was even on goal). Still, the Americans seemed to have Sweden’s number in this tournament, coming in with a 10-0-1 record in their last 11 WJC meetings.
In the first, USA was held scoreless, despite a lengthy stretch of back-to-back powerplays, including ample time on a 5-on-3 advantage. In the second period, Sweden was the first to light the lamp.
Rocco Grimaldi, the Florida Panthers 2011 2nd round draft pick, looked determined to shake off his tournament-long cold streak. The North Dakota Fighting Sioux forward had been very inconsistent throughout the tournament, seeing plenty of the end of Coach Housley’s bench. He seemed to have a knack for coughing up the puck and making some horrible decisions. At 5’6”, he was the shortest player on the American roster. Still, he came to Ufa with high expectations.
Maybe it took him too many games to get going, but suddenly, Grimaldi made a nice effort and let go a shot that hit both posts, before getting another opportunity and tying the game up at 1. Finding himself in the right place at the right time, Grimaldi then tipped in a shot from Trouba for his second of the game (and the tournament). An empty netter would seal the deal for the Americans, their 3-1 victory over Sweden earning them the 2013 WJC Gold Medal.
In addition to the third WJC Gold Medal all-time for USA Hockey (their last one coming in 2010), the team was recognized with individual accolades, as well. Gibson (1.36 GAA) was named the best goaltender and tournament MVP, and Trouba’s monstrous showing on both ends of the ice earned him the top defenseman. Gibson, Trouba, McCabe, and Gaudreau were all named to the tournament all star team.
Though Canada’s Nugent-Hopkins was named the top forward, my pick for tournament MVP would have been Gaudreau, as I can’t state enough how amazingly magnetic his stick and puck were attracted to each other down the stretch. Johnny Hockey finished the tournament with 7 goals in 7 games, the most of anyone across the board.
Alternatively, I could even make the case for one of those unit awards, a la John Madden at Super Bowl XXXVI, where he gave his own personal Most Valuable “Player” nod to the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. In this instance, the Americans clearly had the strongest group of defensemen, a group they could not have won without.
Even with the NHL roaring to go, I know I’ll be looking forward to next year’s World Junior Championships in Sweden.