It was the scoreline that everybody expected following a storyboard that nobody did.
In the ante-penultimate game of the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship’s round robin group stage, leviathan Team USA–second in Group A–squared off against minnow Denmark, firmly expected to dominate from whistle to whistle.
Yet, while the scoreboard told the tale of a rout, it was the Danes who would draw first blood.
Make no mistake: The Americans, indeed, dominated throughout. With double-digit shot counts thrown towards the Danish cage in each period (12/16/16), a heroic effort from goaltender Mathias Seldrup was the only thing preventing this comprehensive defeat from devolving into a full-on beatdown.
From the opening puck drop, the Danish netminder was thrown through the wringer, his team outshot by double in the first period. 10:14 in, however, the product of the Danish domestic league’s Herning Blue Fox received a brief respite: Playing out of his own zone, Louis Belpedio launched a lazy breakout pass, one easily hawked by defenseman Mathias Lassen. With ample space, the 6’0″ rearguard sauntered up to the left hash marks, uncorking a wrist shot that knuckled past backup goalie Brandon Halverson for his first of the tournament.
Whatever breathing room the opening goal afforded Seldrup was wrested back almost immediately, as the American forward corps bared down on the Danish net. With roughly three minutes to go in the frame, Boston University rearguard Charlie McAvoy, Jr. deked past a sliding defender and rifled a shot off of the endboards. Gliding over, forward Colin White collected the puck and backhanded a feed to Auston Matthews, who ripped a one-timer on net. Denied by the left pad of Seldrup, the rebound fell to Matthew Tkachuk, who shot wide. In the ensuing scrum, Matthews–posted up in front–received yet another nifty feed from White, this time burying the puck in twine for his fourth of the group stage.
A relatively clean second period followed a spotless first, with each team serving a minor. Sandwiched in between infractions, forward Sonny Milano scored his first of the tournament and the eventual game-winner: After a Danish neutral zone turnover, Ryan Donato blazed into the attacking zone, bearing left before unleashing a vicious wrister that Seldrup did well to fight off with his shoulder. Partially cleared, the loose puck squirted to Belpedio, who in turn ripped a salvo of his own. Knocked down in front of the net, the puck ping-ponged around before Milano located it in the crease and chopped it in.
Nursing a one goal lead, the United States of America upped the ante in the final period of play, doubling their score. Having a prior goal overturned after it was determined the puck was kicked into the net, White answered with another, more legitimate effort. Double parked with fellow forward Tkachuk in front, White contributed the second part of a nasty double deflection that snaked its way past a beleaguered Seldrup; the goal stood after further review.
Less than two minutes later, Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork would notch his first point of the tournament. Cutting to the net on the power play, Bjork redirected a Milano pass, his effort skimming the ice and hugging the post as it weaseled past Seldrup’s trusty left pad. Defenseman Brandon Fortunato would record the secondary assist, his first point of the tournament.
With another win in the bag, Team USA finishes group play with a 3-0-0-1 record, accumulating nine out of a possible 12 points. The second seed out of Group A, the Americans will open quarterfinal play against third-seeded Czech Republic on Saturday, January 2nd at the familiar confines of the Helsinki Ice Hall.