One of the advantages Team USA had entering the 2011 World Junior Championship was speed. That was most evident with Boston College’s Chris Kreider. His speed was a key reason why his line with Boston University’s Charlie Coyle at center and former Notre Dame player Kyle Palmieri at right wing has been the most successful American line.
Kreider’s speed either allowed him to get into scoring position (he has two goals and two assists) or opened space up for his linemates. His teammates appreciated what they had at left wing.
“He’s been playing great,” Palmieri said. “He’s one of the fastest guys I’ve ever played with and that says a lot. Coming into the pre-tournament camp, coaches kind of looked at me and him as possibly being linemates.”
“He’s great to play with,” Coyle said. “He’s one of the fastest skaters I’ve ever played with. You give it to him, and he’s gone. I’m just lucky to play with guys like him and Palmieri.”
“It’s a lot of fun [playing with Coyle and Palmieri],” Kreider said. “Both players are extremely skilled. It’s fun to be learning a little something from each of them. It’s fun coming down to the rink and get an opportunity to play with them.”
That line was expected to play a key role in the medal round. Instead, Team Canada found a way to neutralize the U.S. speed in their semifinal clash. To add insult to injury, it was Canada’s speed that enabled it to get behind the American defense for most of its goals, providing Canada a 4-1 victory on Monday at HSBC Arena.
“They outskated us,” said U.S. captain John Ramage of Wisconsin. “They outworked us. We were supposed to use our speed, and they skated right over us.”
On Canada’s first goal, their forwards got behind the defense, leaving Cody Eakin alone against Jack Campbell. Despite an excellent move, Campbell was even better. However, Campbell was unable to snare the rebound, and in the ensuing scramble, Curtis Hamilton knocked it in.
The second goal saw Canada use its speed on a rush. Brett Connolly raced down the right side, and when he got to the dot, he centered it for a streaking Quinton Howden. Without slowing down, Howden got his stick on the pass to redirect it past Campbell on the near side to make it 2-0 after one.
Canada made it 3-0 in the second period during a five-on-three power play. Ryan Johansen simply poked in a rebound with the initial shot coming from the point.
The team from the Great White North made it 4-0 early in the third on a virtual two-on-none breakaway. Once again, Canada got behind the Team USA defense. Zack Kassian kept it for himself, went straight in and beat Campbell over his glove.
All the while, Canada kept Team USA from ever exploiting its own speed.
“They played a huge defensive game,” Palmieri said. “They were really solid pinning everybody in the corners. We were trying to use our speed. Ultimately, they shut us down pretty well.”
Team USA avoided the shutout midway through the third when Chris Brown banged in a rebound from the slot after a shot from the left point.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think the way we played tonight we deserved to win,” said U.S. coach Keith Allain, who also coaches Yale. “One thing about hockey is you usually get what you deserve.”
Trying to settle for a bronze
Team USA’s dream of trying to be the first American team to repeat as gold medalist is over. Now, it must regroup to try to come away with some sort of medal. The Americans will go up against Team Sweden, which was surprised by Team Russia 4-3 in a shootout.
“One of the things I said to them is as bad as we feel right now, the beauty of this is we do have an opportunity to play another game and to show people how good a team we actually are,” Allain said. “We’ll deal with it with pride and move forward as a hockey team.”
Kreider, a first-round draft pick of the New York Rangers, will have to find a way to use his speed to allow his line to have a strong game if Team USA wants to walk away from the tournament with a bronze medal.