Dan Fritsche scored twice including the game winner and the U.S. never trailed as the National Junior team defeated Russia 5-4 in the opening game of the IIHF World Junior Championship at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
It was a crucial win for the Americans, facing a team considered among the gold-medal favorites in the tournament’s opening game.
Team USA got off to a quick start, scoring two times in the first six minutes of an opening period that would see six total goals. North Dakota forward Drew Stafford opened the scoring, delighting a hometown crowd of over 9,000 with a one-timer over the glove of Russian goalie Anton Khudobin. Chris Bourque increased the U.S. lead to two, knocking in his own rebound just 1:20 later.
The Russians scored twice, including on a penalty shot to tie the game. But Team USA responded just 18 seconds later on a goal from Fritsche. That lead, however, was short-lived, as Alexander Ovechkin, the top overall pick in last June’s NHL Draft, tied it again at 3-3 just 22 seconds after that.
Early in the second period, Robbie Schremp gave the U.S. a one-goal lead, scoring on the power play. Russia’s Dmitri Pestunov made it 4-4 before Fritsche scored shorthanded to put the U.S. up for good. That goal, at 8:40 of the second period, was the last score of the night.
Michigan goalie Al Montoya, who helped lead Team USA to its first-ever gold medal in last year’s World Junior Championship, overcame a shaky start to get the win in goal.
Earlier in the day, Team Canada defeated Slovakia, 7-3, while the Czech Republic earned a 7-2 decision against Belarus and Finland beat Germany 4-1.
Team USA returns to action against Switzerland on Monday, Dec. 27, at 7:35 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2.