After a pair of tight 2-1 losses to the two best teams in the tournament, the US busted out on Monday morning, thrashing Slovakia 9-3 in a must-win game to advance to the quarterfinals of the World Junior Hockey Championships. The Americans finish up the group stage in third place, and now awaits the second-place finisher from Group A in a quarterfinal tilt Wednesday morning at 4:00 AM.
Johnny Gaudreau was one of the big stories of the game for the US, breaking out with 2 goals and an assist, including a signature dangle-and-backhand move, along with another one of Gaudreau's classics, a patient and perfect feed from Gretzky's Office to pick up an assist on a goal by Vince Trochek. Gaudreau's line was invigorated by the insertion of Harvard's Jim Vesey on the wing, who was promoted onto a regular line after spending the first few games as the US's extra forward. Vesey had two assists on the day.
In the US's last two games, defenseman Jacob Trouba was the only American to light the lamp, so it was nice to see some of the US's forwards get on the board and gain some confidence. Cole Bardreau notched the opening goal and earned player of the game honors for the US, and Vince Trochek finally cashed in on some opportunities to pick up a two-goal game of his own.
From this point forward the slate is wiped clean. Depending on how the cookie crumbles in today's Group A finale between Sweden and Finland, the US will play either the Czech Republic, Finland, or Sweden in the quarterfinals. As of this writing, Sweden leads Finland 2-0; a Sweden win would give the US a matchup against the Czech Republic, a team that they should beat.
As I've been saying after each of the last two games, the effort and energy have been there for the US. Perhaps now they'll have some offensive chemistry and confidence going into the medal rounds.