The USA junior hockey team did the near impossible at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada Thursday night, defeating Canada in a shootout after 60 minutes of regulation wasn’t enough to settle the gold medal game.
It was a long and difficult road with seven games in 11 days, but team USA came out on top in the 2016-17 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, taking home the gold with an undefeated record and defeating team Canada twice on the way, the first team to ever do so in Junior Championship history.
The U.S. swept through the preliminary round with relative ease, outscoring opponents 17-6, including big wins over Russia and Canada in group play. Then, the Americans were challenged by Switzerland and their sensational forward Nico Hischier in the quarterfinals. Hischier put in a two-goal performance, and tallied seven points in five games played throughout the tournament, but it was not enough to overcome a USA team that came out looking flat.
The U.S. started the semifinal against the Russians with significantly much more energy and they needed it. After taking a 3-2 lead late in the second period on a Luke Kunin goal, the Americans gave up the equalizer six minutes into the third period, taking the game to a ten-minute 4-on-4 overtime period.
In the overtime frame, American Joey Anderson nearly put the team through to the final, but his shot blasted off the crossbar, sending the game to a shootout. The Russians would take the early advantage in the shootout, but Denver University product Troy Terry did his best T.J. Oshie impression, scoring three penalty shots through Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov’s five-hole to send team USA to the gold medal game.
Despite two separate two-goal deficits, the Americans fought hard to stay in the title game and did so on the back of two goals from New York Islanders’ 2016 first-round pick and Boston University forward Kieffer Bellows. Bellows’ goals in the final were his only goals in the entire tournament and but were crucial to America’s quest for gold.
USA goalie and Calgary Flames prospect Tyler Parsons was instrumental in the U.S. victory as well, racking up an astounding 46 saves out of 50 Canadian shots on goal. Despite a high volume of shots and six powerplay opportunities for Team Canada, Parsons came up big with each wave of shots he faced. Perhaps most importantly, Parsons stopped each of the five Canadian players in the shootout, keeping team USA alive.
Parsons kept the U.S. alive just long enough so that the semifinal shootout hero Terry could be the hero yet again. And Terry delivered. After the first three shooters for both teams had their shots saved, Terry stepped onto the ice and went five hole again, this time through the legs of Canadian goalie Carter Hart, to give USA the gold medal. Terry’s knack for scoring in the shootout – he was 4-4 in the tourney – turned out to be a real difference maker for the Americans in a tournament filled with players destined for greatness in the NHL.
UConn Huskies’ Tage Thompson and Adam Huska made appearances in the Junior Championships, a big step up for the program as it is trying to make a name for itself in college hockey. Huska, a Slovakian goalie, started three games allowing 15 goals behind a porous defensive unit, with an 87.29 save percentage.
Thompson, on the other hand, made his way onto the Americans’ second forward line and had several moments of individual brilliance. The 6-foot-5-inch forward tallied one goal and four assists with a plus-4 plus/minus rating and proved why he deserved to be in Montreal with all the other NHL prospects at the tournament.
Next up, Huska and Thompson are expected to be back in the UConn lineup for the Huskies’ game against Yale Saturday afternoon at the XL Center.