SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – The United States is one step closer to defending its gold medal at the 2009 World Junior A Challenge.
The U.S. used a three-goal flurry in the second period and stand-out goaltending from Eric Mihalik to knock off Sweden 3-1 on Thursday afternoon and advance to the semifinals for the third time in as many tournament appearances.
The Americans will meet Russia, the Group A winner, in the first final-four match-up on Friday (2 p.m. AT). The loss moves the Swedes into the fifth-place game on Saturday (7 p.m. AT), where they will face the loser of Thursday night’s other quarter-final between Canada West and Belarus.
The offence took over early on Thursday for the U.S., which peppered Swedish goaltender Jonas Gunnarsson with 15 shots in the game’s opening 12 minutes, thanks in large part to three penalties in less than three minutes by the Swedes.
But Gunnarsson stood tall, keeping the game scoreless after one period despite a 17-6 advantage in shots by the Americans.
Nick Jensen finally broke the goose-egg four minutes into the second period, blasting a shot from the point that eluded Gunnarsson. That goal opened the flood gates for the U.S., and David Gerths and Shane Berschbach pushed the lead to 3-0 within 11 minutes of Jensen’s goal.
Gerths and Berschbach have been the offensive leaders for the Americans – they have combined to score almost half of the team’s goals (six of 13) and both are in the top five in tournament scoring.
Facing a three-goal deficit with only 20 minutes remaining, the Swedes came out on the offensive in the third, outshooting the North American side 11-7 in the period.
Adam Almquist finally put a puck past Mihalik, sneaking in a shot from the side of the net at the 4:29 mark, but the American netminder and his defence would be up to the challenge the rest of the way. Mihalik finished with 28 saves as the U.S. outshot Sweden 36-29.
The U.S. is looking for its third medal in as many trips to the WJAC – it took bronze in its debut in 2007 before winning gold last year – while the Swedes can hope to finish no better than fifth in their inaugural appearance.
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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