GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Led by a hat trick from U.S. National Developmental player Phil Kessel, the U.S. defeated Sweden, 8-2, to advance to the semifinals of the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship Saturday night.
The win was a big rebound from a potentially-devastating loss to Czech Republic a night earlier. It forced the U.S. to face a tough Sweden team in order to reach the semifinals instead of jumping right into it as the top seed in its pool.
Sweden took its only lead of the game, scoring at 4:20 of the first session before Michigan’s Kevin Porter lifted a Kessel rebound into the high corner to knot the score. The teams went to the locker room tied after one.
“We knew it was going to be tough game. We got behind but managed to battle back and get the lead.” said U.S. head coach Scott Sandelin. “I thought we got better as the game went on.”
Just over three minutes into the middle stanza, North Dakota’s Drew Stafford broke the tie with a glove-side shot through traffic. Kessel — who still has not made his college decision and has reportedly narrowed it to Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan — then notched his first of the night, going coast-to-coast before firing five-hole on Sweden goalie David Rautio Berguv.
The Swedes narrowed the U.S. lead to one at the midpoint, when Loui Eriksson maneuvered around Michigan’s Al Montoya and scored low to the glove side.
But Kessel struck again early in the third, skating around Sweden’s Johan Fransson and pushing the puck off the far post, to score the eventual game-winner. He completed the hat trick 3:06 later, when Patrick O’Sullivan’s shot hit the post and squirted out into the slot where a waiting Kessel jammed it in.
“Thank God we have Phil Kessel,” Sandelin said. “I thought he was the difference tonight. He just continues to get better.”
With the U.S. on the man advantage, and Sweden opting for a goaltending change, Robbie Schremp bounced the puck over Christopher Heino-Lindberg’s pads for a 6-2 U.S. lead.
Ryan Suter tallied the second U.S. power play goal of the night, knocking in a hard slapshot from the high slot at 12:46, and T.J. Hensick of Michigan punctuated the U.S. win with a backhanded shot high to the stick side with 15 seconds remaining.
The win sends the U.S. to a semifinal matchup with Russia on Sunday, Jan. 2, at 7:38 p.m. CST, on ESPN2. The winner of that game will advance to the gold medal game while the losing team will play for the bronze.
Both the gold and bronze-medal games are set for Jan. 4. If the U.S. reaches the gold-medal game, ESPN will broadcast it live, beginning at 7:08 p.m. CST.