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WJC: USA Defeats Slovakia 6-3

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The Americans improve to 2-0 at World Juniors

Bruce Bennett

In their first game of the tournament yesterday, Slovakia laid a heavy beatdown on Germany, 9-2 - a wider margin than the US and Canada's wins on Thursday, putting the Slovaks in first place and signaling their intention to be a serious contender in Group A.

For the first 30 minutes of today's game, though, the US seemed to be making a mockery of Slovakia's status as a contender, flying out to a 3-0 lead and completely dominating the game. The US piled on 22 shots in the first period, picking up goals from near-future Boston University early departure Jack Eichel and very-near-future Boston University early departure Dan O'Regan to go up 2-0.

(By the way, remember in the season preview when I said Dan O'Regan was a dark-horse Hobey candidate, and Grant made the argument that he wouldn't have enough players to work with to put up the kind of numbers necessary? I guess O'Regan's performance at World Juniors is making us both look right. He's been truly phenomenal, showing great speed, skill and awareness -- he's been one of the US's best players, for sure. So you'd expect him to be doing better than his 5-6--11 stat line in 17 games at BU.)

The second period started out as more of the same, with the US easily killing off a pair of Slovakian power plays, then notching a third goal on a power play of their own, on an absolute bullet of a slap shot by Ryan Hartman, which probably would have gone straight through Slovakian goalie Richard Sabol if it didn't zip past his shoulder. At that point, all looked well, and it seemed like the US would win in a rout.

Well, not so fast. A series of ill-advised penalties and uncharacteristically shaky goaltending by Jon Gillies opened the door for Slovakia. Milan Kolena scored a power play goal at 11:04 to make it 3-1. Then, at 12:57, Gillies failed to tie up a rebound and Martin Reway made him pay to cut the lead to 3-2, which remained the score going into the second intermission. Gillies recovered to make some big stops late in the period to preserve the lead and allow the US to recover at the intermission.

After a tense first nine minutes, the US cracked the game back open with a trio of sweet goals. Matt Grylzyx, who was named player of the game for the US, scored the game's first even strength goal at 9:33, making it 4-2 and giving BU fans something to cheer about yet again. (They'll have to enjoy it while they can, before their players return to BU and go back to underachieving.)

Stefan Matteau added some breathing space a couple of minutes later as the New Jersey Devils prospect extended the lead to 5-2. US captain and Miami (OH) forward Riley Barber capped off the scoring by finishing off a tic-tac-toe goal from Andrew Copp and Nicola Kerdiles, giving the game its 6-2 final.

Canada takes the ice against the Czech Republic at 11:30. A win by more than two goals (which is likely) will put the Canadians back into first place in Group A. The US is back in action tomorrow at 9 AM against Germany, a game that's likely to be rather lopsided. If Thatcher Demko is going to get any playing time in this tournament (barring injury) it's likely to come tomorrow. I suspect that second stringer Anthony Stolarz will get the start, with the US keeping Gillies rested for the New Years' Eve showdown with Canada.

Steve Santini and Ian McCoshen both had their ups and downs on the blue line for the US today and once again were not on the scoresheet. They also both ended as -1s. Hopefully they'll chip in some points in tomorrow's game and get rolling as the tournament barrels toward the medal round.