Talk about fireworks.
What initially looked to be a defensive struggle erupted into an offensive slugfest as the United States of America posted four en route to a two-goal victory over Team Canada.
The nightcap of the opening day’s proceedings, this heavyweight matchup at the Helsinki Ice Hall provided fans with a medley of highlights in all three zones of the skating surface. A scoreless matchup until 5:06 of the second period, the game’s first frame saw a combined nine shots on net, with Canada’s Mason McDonald and America’s Alex Nedeljkovic making a handful of saves each.
After an outstanding Nedeljkovic save on Arizona Coyotes’ prospect Brendan Perlini preserved the deadlock, the contest lurched on into the second period, with both outfits shifting the offense into high gear. Splitting the shot count ten a piece, it was the Canadians who would find twine first. With the Americans cycling 11 forwards following an Alex DeBrincat game misconduct for spearing, Matt Barzal converted a broken play into his first of the tournament. A two-on-one break resulted in a sensational Nedeljkovic stop, but with the American netminder out of position, Julien Gauthier fed the puck from his knees to an onrushing Barzal, who deposited past a diving Nedeljkovic for the game’s first tally.
It wouldn’t take long for the Americans to equalize, however: Off of a faceoff win, London Knights’ forward Christian Dvorak fed the puck to Columbus Blue Jackets’ draft pick Sonny Milano. Wristed wide, his attempt on goal ricocheted off of the end boards, right to an unmarked Colin White. The collegiate skater hacked at the puck on the backhand, popping the saucer past an out-of-position McDonald for the equalizer.
The score would remain even until the third period of play, when a John Quenneville interference minor gifted the Americans their second power play of the game. With McDonald screened in front, captain Zach Werenski received the puck along the blueline and let loose a seeing-eye shot that snaked its way inside the goalie’s blocker-side post.
Minutes later, the Canadians equalized on a power play goal of their own. Breaking into the offensive zone, Mitch Marner carried the puck down the left-wing side, curling along the faceoff circle and shifting the puck to Dylan Strome. Walking in, the 6’3″ 18-year old lined a wrister past the glove of Nedeljkovic, bringing the score back even.
Ultimately, the Americans found their lucky break: Lobbed from the blueline, Miami University rearguard Louis Belpedio’s effort deflected off of Thomas Chabot in front and past a helpless McDonald, gifting Team USA an insurmountable lead. Adding to their total, the Americans’ fourth came courtesy of wunderkind Auston Matthews. Hammering a slap shot on net, Werenski’s shot thundered into teammate Matthew Tkachuk, altering its course and trickling through the 6’4″ McDonald’s butterflied pads. Sitting pretty for the taking, the puck crawled through the crease before Matthews pounded it home.
Holding strong against a six-man attack for the final 1:09, the United States pulled out a victory, catapulting themselves into second place in Group A. Behind leaders Sweden by virtue of goal differential, the Americans have the opportunity to claw ahead in the group standings as early as Monday: Scheduled to take on the Swedes, they ought to carry the momentum of their big victory into the Ice Hall as group play surges on.