A series of inopportune penalties in the second period did in the US team, as Russia used a pair of 5-on-3 goals to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead, adding a late empty netter to put away the Americans 5-3 in the quarterfinals of the World Junior Hockey Championships. The US's title defense ends without having an opportunity to play for a medal. Russia will face the winner of Sweden vs. Slovakia in the semifinals.
When the IIHF announced changes to the tournament's format, allowing 4 of 5 teams in each group to advance into the knockout stages, I thought it was unduly diluting the importance of the preliminary round. Not so, as it turns out. I know that in order to be the best, you have to beat everyone - but you can't help but wonder what might have been if the US capitalized on some early opportunities to take a bigger lead on Canada on Tuesday, and held on to win Group A. Then, they would have faced a much easier path to a possible medal. Instead, this team, which showed such promise through three games, will come home empty handed. Such is the nature of tournament play.
Steve Santini continued to draw praise for his steady defense in this game and throughout the tournament. Ian McCoshen was quiet today and remained one of the few Americans without a point in the tournament, but had a pretty good defensive performance overall. Thatcher Demko did not see any playing time in the tournament, but no doubt spending time with the team and on the bench will provide crucial experience as he bids for the starting job at next year's tournament, to be held in Toronto and Montreal starting on December 26, 2014.
It has to be said that Providence goalie and US starter Jon Gillies didn't have his best game. While you can't fault him for the two 5-on-3 goals Russia scored, he had some continuing issues with rebounds - which have been his achilles heel throughout the tournament - which cost the US in a wacky, up-and-down first period which saw the Americans go down 1-0 and blow a 2-1 lead before going into the room up 3-2. Hopefully Jerry York took copious notes on how some of these teams managed to beat Gillies, who is certainly a fantastic goaltender.
There has already been some Twitter chatter about whether or not the returning players from BC and Notre Dame will be on the ice on Saturday night. Since there is no longer a playoff for 5th and 7th place, as there has been in years past, it's a theoretical possibility. But I'd say to err on the side of assuming they won't be in the lineup. It's unlikely the US team will fly back until tonight at the very earliest, and then you're looking at adjusting from two weeks of playing games six time zones away after an eight hour flight - plus the physical recovery from playing in such a grueling tournament. Add in the fact that it might be hard for the players to fly in to Boston over the next two days anyway, and, well, let's just say Travis Jeke and Teddy Doherty should definitely be ready to play a big role on Saturday night.
The Eagles will be certainly happy to get back Santini, McCoshen and Demko, whether it be on Saturday, or next weekend. They'll come back with some strong international experience that will hopefully serve them well as BC makes its run at the big trophies this year.