Things started on a different note today for the US as head coach Don Lucia made the decision to flip two of his left wingers, moving Stefan Matteau up to the 2nd line with Jack Eichel and Ryan Hartman and slotting Adam Erne in his former spot on the “grind line” with Andrew Copp and Hudson Fasching. It paid off almost immediately as both lines were more offensively engaged, pushing the Russians back into their zone over and over. The USA clearly came into this game with a physical mindset, because no check went unfinished in the first period. Mikhail Grigorenko opened the scoring to put Russia up 1-0, but the sustained pressure from the US finally paid off as Jack Eichel made a great play to get to the net and Stefan Matteau tapped the puck in.
Russia answered quickly, however, Buchnevich putting the puck behind Gillies to give Russia a 2-1 lead. The Matteau-Eichel-Hartman continued to be engaged offensively, pushing and pushing until Ryan Hartman managed to get through the Russian defense and score off a great pass from Matteau, who found himself another gear today. A huge save from Gillies not long after kept the game tied when the US found themselves getting caught playing sloppy with their puck management, a situation where Russia would’ve been more than happy to take advantage. Nic Kerdiles, a player that knows how to produce in big moments, swatted a pass out of mid-air and the US took a 3-2 late off a terrific pass from Riley Barber. Will Butcher took a holding penalty and the US went on the kill to end the period, but a tremendous job from the PK unit allowed them to take the lead into the 1st intermission.
Russia opened the 2nd period with an offensive zone penalty, Barabanov going off for tripping, and although they got a good kill, the US lost no momentum. They had a couple of great looks, and Jack Eichel stayed out for most, if not all, of the power play. Vasilevski made an incredible save on an Hartman one-timer as Russia began to tighten up defensively. Riley Barber took a shot to the head from Skladnichenko, who got a minor and a 10 minute misconduct, but the US couldn’t capitalize and immediately after went down two players, Matteau going off for tripping and DiPauli for hooking.
Giving Russia a 5-on-3 is pretty much automatically going to lead to a goal, and this time was no different – Zadorov tied the game 3-3. Russia then got another 5-on-3 when Steve Santini tried to clear the puck and put it over the glass, and it lead to – you guessed it – another Zadorov goal. Gillies made several huge saves, though, and the US managed to kill off the rest of the Santini penalty. Buchnevich was then called for hooking O’Regan. The Russian penalty kill unit turned out to be too aggressive for the US, though, holding them to no shots on the power play. The US did manage to get some sustained pressure at the end of the 2nd, but it wasn’t enough, and the Russians took a 4-3 lead into the 2nd intermission.
The penalty box parade continued in the 3rd as discipline issues returned to kill the US. Grzelcyk went to the box for hooking, and then right after the US killed that penalty Ryan Hartman went off on a (very questionable) slashing call. Russia took a too-many-men penalty right after, but the Russian penalty kill has been aggressive and terrific the entire tournament. They managed to kill not only the too-many-men, but also the holding penalty drawn by Ryan Hartman. The US power play simply wasn’t aggressive enough in either instance, and you cannot have a weak power play effort when trailing and still expect to score. The US took their timeout with 1:12 left, coming up on an offensive zone faceoff, and they got some very good chances. Matt Grzelcyk blew a tire, however, and Buchnevich got the empty netter that sealed it for Russia. The US fell 4-3 and was eliminated from the tournament.
NOTES: In a splendid display of sportsmanship, Buchnevich skated by and taunted the US bench after the empty netter. Russian goalie Vasilevski stole the game after he settled down in the 2nd period – incredible performance. Today’s player of the game for the US was Connor Carrick, who had a fantastic game. Coaching staff chose tournament MVPs from the team – Grzelcyk, Copp, Fasching. I won’t argue with any of those choices. All three were incredible. In the end, US lost the game for themselves by taking dumb penalties, but they put up a very good fight throughout the tournament. US should be encouraged by the performance of players returning next year, such as Hudson Fasching, Steve Santini, Jack Eichel and Will Butcher.