- As USA head coach Nate Leaman said after his team’s New Year’s Eve win: “It’s a new tournament now.”
Saturday night the United States hits the ice against Slovakia in the final quarterfinal matchup of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. The Americans finished the preliminary round atop Group B after rattling off three straights wins; they lost the opener to Russia 5-3. It marked the sixth time the Americans won their group — four of the previous five times they skated away with some hardware (one bronze, one silver and two golds).
This squad wouldn’t mind replicating that in 2021. What they don’t want to revisit is what happened last year. Eight players return from a 2020 team that was knocked out in the quarterfinals by Finland 1-0.
“I’ve talked to a couple of them individually. … They’re very much sending the message and conveying the message to their teammates that it’s a new tournament and this has to be one of our best games,” said head coach Nate Leaman.
The American’s bench boss would also like to keep his own quarterfinal past — and with Slovakia — in the past. In 2009, Leaman was an assistant coach for the U.S. team that was upset in the quarterfinals by the Slovaks 5-3.Some recognizable names on that team: 2020 Stanley Cup champions Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh.
Another member of that ’09 squad was James van Riemsdyk, whom Trevor Zegras tied for third on the USA’s World Juniors career points list on New Year’s Eve when he tallied three against Sweden. Zegras and now-NHLer van Riemsdyk each have 22 points, and the soon-to-be Duck has 13 in the tournament. He’ll be looking to regain his position all alone atop the 2021 leaderboard as Canada’s Dylan Cozens collected a goal and an assist in Canada’s win to tie him in points.
Once again, the U.S. will be without Patrick Moynihan for the second straight game with an injury. The Devils prospect took a late, high (and, many would say, dirty) hit against Austria (the player was suspended two games for the hit) and was knocked around against the Czechs. With Moynihan out, the Americans dress 12 forwards and eight defensemen. After Tyler Kleven played against Sweden, Rangers prospect Hunter Skinner slots in on the back end. Moynihan may be available if the Americans advance.
Slovakia won just one game in the preliminary round, a 1-0 squeaker over Switzerland to open the tournament. It did hold Canada to three goals in a loss as the players clogged up the middle, blocked an exorbitant amount of shots and frustrated the Canadians’ high-powered offense. The Slovaks don’t have a ton of offense as they’ve only scored five goals on 87 shots (second-lowest shot total through the preliminary round).
“Big, physical, physical with the net fronts,” said Leaman when asked what challenges the Slovaks bring. “Structurally they’re gonna make it hard for us. We have to manage pucks. We have to play fast with tight support. We might have a little advantage in foot speed but certainly, they make it hard to play against. So, we’re gonna have to make sure we’re moving our feet, we’re moving pucks quickly and we’re managing pucks well.”
Spencer Knight will get the nod in net. After allowing four goals on 12 shots to the Russians on Christmas, he’s pitched back-to-back shutouts (which followed a shutout by his goalie partner Dustin Wolf). With a goalie in net the Americans have not allowed a goal in 206:35 (180:21 if you take into consideration the empty-netter by Russia).
Sporting News has all the action as the United States and Slovakia battle it out for a spot to play for a medal.
(All times Eastern)
USA vs. Slovakia score, highlights from 2021 World Juniors quarterfinals
11:30 p.m. — Second period is a go.
First period: USA 1, Slovakia 0
11:11 p.m. — First period comes to an end.
- USA has now shutout opponents for 200 minutes and 21 seconds. With a goalie in net (since Dustin Wolf relieved Spencer Knight against Russia), it’s 226:35 without a goal.
- Slovakia outshot the Americans 11-5.
11:10 p.m. — Trevor Zegras gets stood up as he enters the Slovakia zone and he goes right back to the U.S. bench. The hit caught him a little on the chin. He seems to be ok on the bench.
11:04 p.m. — Seconds after the Americans kill off the penalty, Spencer Knight robs Roman Faith in the slot. Faith grabs his head in disbelief.
11:02 p.m. — Spencer Knight makes a good stop on the penalty kill.
11:01 p.m. — Landon Slaggert called for 2+10 for a hit to the head.
10:55 p.m. — PP GOAL. It’s an “Arty Party” as Arthur Kaliyev is left wide open — like wide, wide open — on the backdoor and he bangs it in. USA leads 1-0.
10:54 p.m. — USA gets a power play. The Americans are 6-for-15 with the man advantage.
10:47 p.m. — United States heads to the penalty kill; they’ve yet to give up a power-play goal in the tournament (5-for-5). They would kill this one off and now 6-for-6.
10:44 p.m. — John Farinacci gets crushed against the boards up high and heads down the tunnel after.
10:40 p.m. — Scramble in front of the Slovakia net but can’t finish. Simon Latkoczy is in net for the Slovaks.
10:38 p.m. — As the referee says at center ice: “Let’s have a good time here.”
9:20 p.m. — Lines.
9:10 p.m. — Some notes to get you ready.
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