Team USA took home the gold medal from the World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia over the holidays, becoming world champions for the second time in the last four years.
The team started out with a shutout win over Germany (8-0) followed by one-goal losses to Russia (2-1) and Canada (2-1), respectively. After those losses, the Americans found their offense and posted a victory over Slovakia (9-3), which enabled Team USA to finish second in their pool.
They opened the medal round in a crossover game versus the Czech Republic and advanced to the semifinals with an easy, 7-0 victory. Just one game stood between the USA’s finest junior-aged players and the gold medal match.The U.S. team was a team on a mission and used its speed and puck movement to open a lead early and never looked back, thumping Canada 5-1.
Sweden, the defending champions who had dispatched Russia in the other semifinal matchup, was the only squad that remained in the way of glory. With the game tied at 1-1, Rocco Grimaldi scored his first goal of the tournament. Grimaldi would strike again before the period ended to give Team USA a 2-1 lead after two stanzas. The Americans would play a strong defensive third period and goaltender John Gibson came up with the big saves when called upon to preserve the lead. That lead was increased to 3-1 when Vince Trochek put the puck into an empty Swedish net with 16 seconds remaining in the third period. The goal sealed the gold medal victory for the USA.
It was the third gold medal at the World Junior Championships for the USA since 2004, establishing USA Hockey as the premier developer of hockey talent on the planet.
New England’s Impact
Gibson was named the Most Valuable Player of the WJC. However, the International Ice Hockey Federation’s selection committee would not have been wrong had it chosen Boston College sophomore forward Johnny Gaudreau. The Eagles star almost turned the Americans’ fortunes around singlehandedly by scoring seven total goals during a three-game stretch in the tourney. His offensive explosion paced his team into the championship match.
Gaudreau, a New Jersey native, finished fifth in tournament scoring with seven goals and two assists totaling nine points. He also led his club with 25 shots on goal. The Calgary Flames draft pick was named to the All Star team at the conclusion of the WJC.
Another New England product who shared in turning the American team around after losing two consecutive games was Harvard University freshman Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass). The Nashville Predators draftee had been used sparingly by coach Phil Housley but was inserted onto a line with Gaudreau and J.T. Miller against the Slovaks. Vesey responded with three first period assists that set the tone for the victory. Vesey completed the WJC with one goal and four assists for five points. He was also a plus-three and registered eight shots on goal.
A third New Englander, goaltender Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine) earned a gold medal by keeping the door shut in the third period against the Germans. The Providence College freshman and Calgary Flames draftee faced seven shots and stopped all of them to preserve the shutout victory for the Americans.
Junior Power Rankings
1) Boston Jr. Bruins (21-6-0-0-0)
2) Valley Jr. Warriors (19-10-0-0-0)
3) Islanders Hockey Club (19-7-0-0-1)
4) South Shore Kings (18-11-0-3-0)
5) Northern Cyclones (17-6-1-2)
6) Boston Jr. Rangers (13-4-7-2)
7) Connecticut Wolfpack (17-6-2-1)
8) Bay State Breakers (16-13-0-0-2)
9) Boston Bandits (12-13-0-1-1)
10) New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs (12-12-0-0-2)
11) Springfield Jr. Pics (15-15-0-0-1)
12) Walpole Express (17-6-20)
13) Connecticut Oilers (7-16-0-2-1)
14) Portland Jr. Pirates (8-23-0-1-0)
15) Laconia Leafs (7-17-4-0)