They almost wet the bed. They almost completely shat the bed, for that matter. But, lo and behold, they staved off catastrophe, and clinched Group B glory in the process. Who are they, you ask? In this case, that pronoun refers to the 2015 edition of the American entry in the IIHF World Championships, a group that nearly pissed away a three goal lead against Slovakia Tuesday afternoon. But they didn’t. S’all good in the hood.
Playing the hot hand, Head Coach Todd Richards handed standout goalie Connor Hellebuyck yet another start in net for the Red, White and Blue, and in the early going, the UMass Lowell River Hawk didn’t disappoint; stymieing a Slovakian attack featuring the likes of Marian Gaborik and the Detroit Red Wings‘ Tomas duo of Jurco and Tatar, Hellebuyck denied all eight shots he faced in the first frame, holding up his end of the bargain and enabling his teammates to shell the Slovakian net to the tune of twelve shots on goal. Combining to chase starting netminder Jan Laco, forward Ben Smith and defenseman Seth Jones notched two goals in the opening 4:11 of the contest, blitzkrieg-ing the elder statesman of the Slovakian crease and forcing Vladimir Vujtek to play Julius Hudacek in his stead.
With a third goal arriving in the form of an Anders Lee strike a mere 27 seconds into the second period, it appeared as though the Americans would run train over their opposition, all but assured to complete the rout. Somehow, someway-amidst the hellfire of a 15 shot period for the Slovakians-Connor Hellebuyck lost his All-Tournament form for a span of eleven minutes and 53 seconds; in that time, a quadruple shot of Slovakian lightning zapped the Yankees, a four-goal run that propelled them into the lead, much to the chagrin of the bewildered American contingent. Led by Marian Gaborik’s opening power-play effort, Adam Jasnosik, Vladimir Dravecky and Milan Bartovic followed suit, bumrushing Hellebuyck for the keeper’s worst stretch of play in the round-robin. On the ropes, Charlie Coyle managed to land a counterpunch for the Americans, leveling things at four with 52 seconds remaining in the period.
A chippy third period saw a scoreless 20 minutes come and go, paving the way for overtime. Dominating the shot charts, Team USA threw four shots at Hudacek before Jack Eichel-consensus number two overall pick at the upcoming draft-potted an unassisted goal to send his squad home two points richer as victors. Which is cool. Wow, I’m tired.
In compiling a 5-1-0-1 record during the tournament’s preliminary round, the Americans clinched the top seed of Group B, their 17 total points out of a possible 21 good enough to secure a favorable quarterfinal match-up against the fourth-seeded Swiss. Team USA’s quest for gold continues on Thursday at the CEZ Arena in Ostrava, Czech Republic.