Team USA Advances to Gold Medal Game

The United States defeated host Finland, 2-1, overcoming a raucous hometown crowd to advance to the Gold Medal game against Canada at the World Junior Championships.

This is the second time the United States will play for the gold medal. It lost to Canada in the 1997 final. Last year, the U.S. lost to Finland in the bronze medal game and came in fourth.

The gold-medal game is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 5 at 11:30 a.m. (ET). It can be watched live on TSN in Canada or via the Center Ice package, available on satellite and many digital cable systems. You can also listen live via the USA Hockey web site.

“It could have been one of the toughest games of their lives,” said U.S. head coach Mike Eaves. “When you play in a country like Finland, where hockey is part of the lifestyle, and this place was packed tonight, you have to think the kids responded very well.”

For the third time in as many games, Team USA scored perhaps its biggest goal while killing a penalty. With Corey Potter in the box for roughing, Stephen Werner, a Massachusetts sophomore, broke up a play at Finland’s point and started a rush with Zach Parise. When Werner dropped a backhand pass to Parise and cut to the center, Parise returned the puck and Werner gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead.

Finland generated a number of scoring opportunities throughout the game, while Michigan goalie Al Montoya was repeatedly tested, including an important stop under a minute into the game, one on a two-on-none in the second period and a handful while moving across the net.

Team USA took the 1-0 lead into the third, and finally got a much-needed insurance goal when Maine’s Greg Moore found Dan Fritsche splitting the defense and sent him into the zone. Fritsche kicked a bouncing puck from his skates to his backhand, quickly moved it to his forehand and beat goaltender Hannu Toivonen before running out of room.

Finland closed the lead with less than a minute to play, and the crowd, which had made its presence felt from start to finish, responded with its loudest cheers of the night. With a power play and after pulling its goalie, Finland, playing six-on-four, moved the puck low to Montoya’s left and Valtteri Filppula snuck a puck to Teemu Nurmi, who scored at 19:01 of the third. Montoya, however, and Team USA closed out the victory.

“It was the kids’ job to play the game tonight,” said Eaves. “Now, it’s the coaches job to go do some homework and try to create a gameplan. The kids are satisfied, and a little drained, but now we can see the top of the mountain.”