Ohio, you should be proud. The Buckeye State was well represented on a national stage.
After a rough start to this year’s World Junior Championships, the U.S. Junior squad dominated throughout the medal round including in today’s 3-1 victory over Sweden in Ufa, Russia. Rocco Grimaldi gave the Americans all the offense they needed with two second-period goals.
The Americans won their first gold since 2010 and their third gold medal all-time. It is the first time that the Americans faced a team other than Canada in the gold medal round. The Americans have had success recently against the Swedish but Sweden’s junior squad is coming off a World Juniors title in 2012.
The Americans go from finishing seventh in 2012 to first in 2013.
The 2013 edition of the United States U20 squad has seven Ohio connections. Out of the seven, four are native sons to the state including a pair from Columbus suburb Dublin. Forward Sean Kuraly (Miami U.) and Connor Murphy (Sarnia) grew up in Dublin and played for Ed Gingher's Ohio AAA Blue Jackets.
“It is hard to explain and put into words,” Murphy said. “These guys, it is awesome how they played today. I don’t think it is how we drew it up but oh man, it feels good… This is the highlight, those who had ’93 birth year, we’ve got gold in U-17, U-18, and U-20. That speaks for all the guys here.”
Kuraly was on a line throughout the entire tournament with his Miami teammate Riley Barber. Barber played well with three goals and three assists.
East Palestine native J.T. Miller (Connecticut Whale) and Loveland son Tyler Biggs (Oshawa) also played key roles. Miller was among team leaders in points with two goals and seven assists.
“After last year, so much unfinished business for our team to be successful,” said Miller. “For us, we executed the game plan every game. We outworked the other team just to win a gold medal round and have one around our neck right now, best feeling in the world.”
Beside head coach Housley was Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki who served as Housley’s assistant.
Blue Jackets prospect Mike Reilly (Minnesota) scored a goal and two assists during the tournament.
Things did not look good early for the Americans Saturday. The United States failed to capitalize off of a 5-on-3 power play and had two shots go off the post in the first period.
After the scoreless first period, Filip Sandberg gave Sweden a 1-0 lead early in the second off of a power play.
Grimaldi showed up by scoring a pair of goals to give the Americans a 2-1 second intermission lead. His first goal came 7:42 into the period, and his second came at 10:27.
While playing with the lead, the United States played keep away in the third period.
Arguably the play of the game came from Murphy blocking Sebastian Collberg’s shot from the slot with his chest. The shot block kept the score in favor of the Americans by a goal.
The United States sealed it late as Vince Trocheck scored into an empty net to set off the celebration on the bench.
“When Sweden jumped out to an early lead, we had to remain composed because we did have scoring chances early,” Housley said. “At the end, I liked how our team played throughout the game. Their heart and character showed tonight and I think that was a big reason why we won.”
The biggest difference between the Americans and the rest of the pack was their defense. John Gibson had a 1.36 goals-against-average and a 95.5 save percentage. In front of him, Winnipeg prospect and Michigan defender Jacob Trouba stole the show. Trouba was not only incredible offensively notching nine points, but also broke up many plays before they could happen.
Gibson was honored as the tournament’s top goalie and Trouba for its top defender.
Despite not playing in Saturday’s contest, Blue Jackets goaltending prospect Oscar Dansk won a silver medal with Sweden.
Earlier on Saturday, Russia defeated Canada in the bronze medal game 6-5 in overtime. It is the first time Canada has not earned a medal in 15 years. Blue Jackets prospect Boone Jenner was held scoreless in the contest.
Edmonton’s prospects shined as Canadian Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a goal and three assists and Russian Nail Yakupov had a pair of goals.