The United States junior national team defeated defending gold medalist Sweden 3-2 in OT this morning in one of two tune-up games prior to next week's World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia. BC forward Johnny Gaudreau was scratched for this game, along with the rest of the US's top forward line, defensive pairing and first-string goalie; the Americans used this game to give guys on the bubble a chance to earn their spot on the team.
It was an encouraging sign for the US to top the defending champs with their best players sitting in the stands, as Sweden played with a full-strength squad. Last year, the Americans stumbled to a shocking 7th place finish after back-to-back medals in 2010 (gold) and 2011 (bronze).
Shayne Gotisbehere (say that five times fast), a defenseman from Union College, potted the OT game winner for the US on a bullet from the point. The other two American goalscorers were Ryan Hartman and Connor Murphy, both of whom ply their trade in the Canadian Hockey League - but plenty of NCAA players made their mark in this one.
Jim Vesey of Harvard was named player of the game by the official scorers, notching an assist on the US's first goal and putting in a solid two-way performance; he really needed a great effort as he is projected by most experts to be right on the bubble. Mario Lucia of Notre Dame had a sweet assist on the US's second goal. Jon Gillies of Providence College played the second half of the game in net for the US and earned the win, and in so doing stated his case to be the US's #2 goalie.
Another player Eagle fans and New Englanders had their eye on today was Matt Grzelcyk of BU, another bubble candidate who will have to beat out an impressive group of offensive-minded blueliners to crack the US roster. He had a decent game despite not getting on the scoresheet; his speed and puckhandling ability were evident. Grzzuzllzlylzlyx making the roster would serve the dual purpose of getting a local kid onto the national team and depriving BU of one of its best players for their upcoming series against Denver, so let's hope for the best.
One thing of note from the game was that the European referees were extremely whistle-happy, a trend that evidently extended to the Canada-Finland game, according to the TSN broadcast. While it made for a choppy game, that's exciting news from a Johnny Gaudreau perspective, as it seems like he'll have plenty of opportunities to thrive on special teams.
Gaudreau is likely to skate on the top line with J.T. Miller of the AHL's Connecticut Whale & Rocco Grimaldi, another diminutive college star out of the University of North Dakota. They are expected to be in the lineup on Saturday at 6 am when the US plays its last pre-tournament game against Finland.
The World Junior Championship begins on Dec. 26, with the Americans' first game coming Dec. 27 at 9 am against Germany. All US games will air live at ungodly hours on NHL Network, who will then also re-air the games at a more appropriate hour in the evening.
You can see the whole schedule here; if you're a casual hockey fan and have never followed World Juniors before, I highly recommend it. Even in a normal year, it's some of the best hockey you'll see all season; with the likelihood of the NHL season being scrapped entirely, this will probably be the most exciting competition of the winter. For the very best American-based coverage and analysis of World Juniors, I highly recommend the excellent United States of Hockey, who wrote a recap of today's game breaking down the performances of key players.