Sunday, April 24, 2011

The best things in life are three

Press Release

USA vs. Sweden 4-3 (1-1, 0-2, 2-0, 1-0)

CRIMMITSCHAU – Gold came a little harder for the US this time around.

It took a two-goal comeback in the third period, then overtime to put away a tough Swedish team. But with 13:54 left in the extra period, Team USA’s Connor Murphy fired the game winning shot that gave his team the 4-3 victory and a third consecutive U18 gold medal.

“We had been playing fairly good hockey, but Sweden is a great team and they went up 3-1 on us so we just wanted to make sure the guys didn’t have any regrets in the last twenty minutes,” said USA head coach Ron Rolston. “The guys were obviously down but they fought back just as they have done in the past two years.”

The game put a dramatic end to an immensely successful U18 tournament for hosts Dresden and Crimmitschau. The 2011 edition of the U18s featured a number of great games, punctuated by a thrilling overtime victory by the defending champions in front of a record crowd of 5,007 spectators. In total, over 47,000 people attended this year’s games.

“The fans really embraced this tournament, tonight’s crowd was just unbelievable, and for the kids to be playing in that type of environment is a great experience,” said Rolston.

The score was tied a one apiece at the end of the first period. Sweden notched the first goal of the game when a neutral zone pass was tipped in the air and fell into the U.S. end. The puck landed right on the stick of Swedish forward Filip Forsberg, who promptly fired it through U.S. goaltender John Gibson’s legs for the 1-0 lead.

Though the Swedes were doing a good job keeping the Americans pinned to the boards and limiting their scoring opportunities, the U.S. caught a break late in the period when a penalty was given to Sweden’s William Karlsson for tripping. On the ensuing power play, USA defenceman Jacob Trouba fired a low hard shot from the point to tie the game 1-1 with eight seconds left in the period.

Both teams exchanged scoring chances in the first ten minutes of the second period, but neither was able to solve the other’s goaltender. Sweden’s forwards in particular were doing a good job getting back and defending against the U.S. attack, limiting secondary scoring chances.

Their efforts paid off with 7:39 remaining in the period when the puck came back to the point off a Swedish push into the U.S. zone. Albin Blomkvist lay there waiting, cradled the puck and fired a shot towards the U.S. net. The puck hit a few sticks on the way and was redirected past Gibson for the go-ahead goal.

Minutes later Sweden struck again. Karl Johansson got the puck at the top of the Swedish blue line and fired a beautiful cross-ice pass right on the tape of William Karlsson’s stick. Karlsonn skated into the slot and passed the puck off to Gustav Björklund, who fired it home for the 3-1 lead.

Having never faced a deficit in its last two U18 gold medal games, Team USA took to the ice in the third period down by two goals. They managed to get the first goal early on, when Rocco Grimaldi got the puck in the Swedish zone and made a drop pass to Connor Murphy, who made no mistake with a shot that went straight to the top left corner of goaltender Niklas Lundström’s net.

The U.S. attack then fizzled out through the majority of the period, as the Americans took penalties and failed to capitalize on a pair of power plays. But just when time began to run out on their comeback effort, forward Reid Boucher skated into Sweden’s zone, beat his defender and fired a laser shot that went off the far post and in with 1:29 left.

Regulation time wound down, and the teams took to the ice for a 20 minute four-on-four overtime period. Just over four minutes into the period, Swedish captain Oskar Klefbom was whistled for holding as he tried to stop American forward Rocco Grimaldi from getting to the Swedish net.

Sweden appeared to be in control on the penalty kill, but with less than five seconds remaining on the man advantage to puck came to USA defenceman Connor Murphy in the left faceoff circle. Murphy’s first shot was blocked by a diving Swedish player, but the puck came right back to him for a second chance.

This time Murphy got off a clean slapshot that went straight to the near side of Lundström’s net, going off the crossbar and in, giving the Americans their third straight U18 championship.

“This tournament is so competitive, with such great teams playing here for three weeks it’s a grind,” said Murphy after the game. “We knew that it was the last time that most of us would be playing together and we just wanted to lay it out on the line for each other and win for each other.”

NOTE: Russian Nikita Kucherov, with 18 points in six games, was chosen as the tournament’s top forward. Team Canada defenceman Ryan Murphy was selected best defenceman, and USA goalkeeper John Gibson best goalie.

(Nathan can be reached at

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