The U.S. National Junior Team, with goals from five different players, earned a 5 -1 victory over Kazakhstan today in the opening game for both teams of the preliminary round of the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.
“I thought we got stronger as the game wore on,” said U.S. Head Coach John Hynes. “It’s always important to get the tournament started on the right foot and we accomplished that today.”
It was a 1-1 standoff after the opening period. Kazakhstan got on the board first at 14:46 when Alexandr Kurshuk tipped Yevgeniy Bolyakin’s shot from the right circle past Jeremy Smith with Team USA down a man. The United States evened the game at 19:57 when James vanRiemsdyk (New Hampshire) tipped the puck past Mikhail Smolnikov at the side of the net. Bill Sweatt (Colorado College) drew the lone assist on the play.
Team USA dominated the second period. Rhett Rakhshani (Denver) put the U.S. ahead for good at 4:58 when he buried the rebound of a Kyle Okposo shot from the bottom of the left circle. Tyler Ruegsegger (Denver) also recorded an assist on the play. Mike Carman (Minnesota) was the recipient of a nice feed from behind the net off the stick of Sweatt at 8:29, a marker that gave Team USA a two-goal advantage after 40 minutes. While U.S. netminder Jeremy Smith (Plymouth (OHL)) had to make only three saves in the period, he made a critical one on Yevgeni Gasnikov from point blank range with just :01 left in the period.
Colin Wilson (Boston University) re-directed Cade Fairchild’s (Minnesota) power-play shot from the center point at 4:11 of the third period to make it 4-1 for Team USA, with vanRiemsdyk also getting an assist on the play. Okposo closed out the scoring at 17:43 when his shot from the side of the right circle deflected off the top of the glove of Smolnikov and into the net. Ruegsegger began the play by winning the faceoff.
Smith picked up the victory in goal with 17 saves, while Smolnikov made 44 saves in a losing effort.
Team USA will next face Switzerland on Friday (Dec. 28) at 12 noon ET.