After a shaky 2-2 record in group play, the Americans have come on strong in the World Junior Championships being played in Russia. They first defeated Czech Republic 7-0 on Wednesday in the quarterfinals and then followed that win with a 5-1 ledger over Canada today in the semifinals.
The United States is just one win away from its first gold medal since 2010. The Americans face Sweden Saturday at 7:30 a.m. Eastern.
The victory for the Americans avenges a 2-1 loss to the Canadians on Sunday. The loss caused many to cast doubts on a squad that many favored to win the tournament. The Americans answered all doubts today led by a solid goaltending effort by John Gibson who stopped all but one of the 34 shots he faced.
“Our guys deserved this one,” USA head coach Phil Housley said. “They have been playing very, very good hockey especially in the elimination game against Slovakia, and that carried into the Czech game and now the Canadian game. The Canadian team is very, very good.”
Once again, an Ohioan played a key role in the victory.
East Palestine, Ohio native J.T. Miller, currently a member of the Connecticut Whale, had a pair of assists in the game. Miller also had a plus-3 rating.
Blue Jackets prospect Mike Reilly was paired with Dublin native and Phoenix prospect Connor Murphy on the Americans’ top defensive pairing. The two were both a plus-1 and Reilly added an assist on the game’s first goal.
Highly touted Blue Jackets prospect Boone Jenner struggled in the faceoff circle for the Canadians. He only won seven out of 20 faceoffs and was a minus-1 for the game.
Miami forwards Riley Barber and Sean Kuraly, a Dublin, Ohio native, each had three shots and were plus-1 Loveland, Ohio native Tyler Biggs took two shots and was a plus-2.
The first goal was the first of two scored by Wisconsin Badger defenseman and Buffalo prospect Jake McCabe. McCabe is the captain of the United States.
“We wanted to send that message early that we wanted to dominate in every facet of the game,” McCabe said. “Big credit to all of us, we used our speed to our advantage and our forecheck was awesome, our gaps were awesome. They didn’t really know what hit them in the first. They were throwing the puck away and we really had them on their heels.”
McCabe put the Americans up 1-0 7:18 into the first when Barber sent a pass out between the hashes to McCabe who beat the glove of Malcolm Subban. Less than nine minutes later, McCabe scored from the exact spot with a wrister that beat Subban top shelf to give the United States a 2-0 lead.
“We certainly got the start we wanted,” Housley said. “We scored that all important first goal and then we got settled in. We sort of dictated pace and our guys established that early.”
John Gaudreau and Jim Vesey scored in the second period to give the United States a 4-0 lead. Vesey’s goal chased Subban midway through the second.
Canada finally got on the board early in the third as Ty Rattie scored a shorthanded goal to cut the Americans’ lead to 4-1.
But Gaudreau had to polish off a night cap with his second goal of the contest scoring with under five minutes left to give the Americans a 5-1 lead. The performance sets the tone for the Americans’ gold metal contest Saturday.
Sweden has one Blue Jackets prospect on its roster. Oscar Dansk is Sweden’s third-string goalie. He has only dressed for one game and has not played in any contests.