Team USA used outstanding special-teams play and solid goaltending on the way to a 6-1 victory over Slovakia in preliminary-round play at the 31st annual International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.
In a must-win game for the United States if it hoped to have a chance to move onto the medal round, Team USA came alive with three power-play goals and held Slovakia scoreless on its 10 man-advantage chances.
“We got an all-around team effort today,” said U.S. head coach Ron Rolston. “I’m proud of our guys. We have to get some rest and be ready for Sweden tomorrow.”
The United States held a 2-0 advantage after the opening period. Patrick Kane wristed a shot from the top of the right circle and past Slovakia netminder Jakub Macek with Team USA on the power play at 6:51 for a 1-0 edge. Captain Taylor Chorney and Jack Skille drew assists on the play.
Defenseman Jack Johnson made it 2-0 at 14:45 with a delayed penalty on Slovakia in effect. Peter Mueller found Johnson at the side of the left circle and his shot sailed over the glove of Macek. Nate Gerbe also assisted on the play.
Getting his first start of the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship, U.S. netminder Jeff Frazee was strong in the opening stanza, including a solid stop off an opening-faceoff two-on-one rush. Frazee also made two big stops in less than a minute midway through the period, first on David Buc and then on Juraj Valach.
Team USA scored two more power-play goals in the second period to gain a 4-0 advantage after 40 minutes. Kane had one of the tournament’s most spectacular goals at 4:15 as he came from the side wall, stick-handled through traffic and roofed one into the upper corner of the net on the near side from just outside the goal crease.
Then at 9:00, defenseman Erik Johnson wristed one from the center point that beat Macek and sent him to the bench in favor of Branislav Konrad.
The United States gained a 5-0 lead just 1: 36 into the third period as Konrad inadvertently tipped the puck up over his own shoulder and into his net off an Erik Johnson pass attempt to Mueller. Mueller got credit for the goal despite not touching the puck. Slovakia broke the shutout at 9:46 before James vanRiemsdyk finished the scoring at 16:07 when he put home the rebound of a Justin Abdelkader shot from in close. Blake Geoffrion started the play.
Frazee finished with 28 saves, while Macek and Konrad combined for 23 stops for Slovakia.