MINSK, Belarus – In his return to world championship play for the first time since 2008, Stanley Cup champion and two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas shut down a determined and aggressive Belarusian team as the U.S. defeated the tournament hosts 6-1.
With Belarus playing on its national holiday, Victory Day, and president Alexander Lukashenko in attendance, the U.S. did well to thwart an early surge in the opening five minutes, Thomas playing an integral role.
“They came at us right off the bat,” Thomas said after the win. “It was their first-ever world championship game on home turf and fortunately we were able to get the win to start the tournament.”
“The first half of the second period, they really put on a push and if they would have got one it could have been a different game,” Thomas said.
The 40-year-old Dallas Stars goalie denied 20 of 21 shots to earn the victory, only allowing a well-executed, power-play goal in the waning seconds of the second period.
“I thought Tim Thomas looked really sharp tonight especially early on. Belarus was very dangerous off the attack, they entered the zone with lots of possession and chances at the net,” said U.S. head coach Peter Laviolette.
“He looked like he was in control tonight, there weren’t a lot of rebounds and when there were, I thought our defense did a good job of clearing them,” Laviolette said.
Thomas is representing the U.S. at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships for the seventh time, his first appearance came in 1995. In 2008, he was between the pipes for the team’s opening two victories over Austria and Slovenia. Tonight’s win improves his international record to 3-2-0 over nine games.
The well-traveled Flint, Mich., native also represented Team USA at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, where he earned a silver medal as the backup to Ryan Miller.
Friday night’s contest at Minsk Arena was a tight, one-goal game until the 35th minute of the second period.
The U.S. exploded for three goals by Jacob Trouba, Johnny Gaudreau and Colin McDonald in a span of 2:43 late in the second period to take a commanding 4-0 lead and put the contest out of reach.
Mikhail Grabovski, a Belarusian forward and member of the Washington Capitals, had kind words for Thomas and his decision to come to Minsk for the tournament.
“I think it’s great that he’s come here at his age, it’s a great decision for him and for our country,” Grabovski said. “Little kids here can watch one of the best players in the NHL play. He played great today. We had so many chances and I think he’s one of the main parts of the U.S win."
Thomas admitted that his biggest challenge thus far in Belarus has been adapting to the seven-hour time difference from the U.S.
“The last couple days, the time change has been kicking my butt,” Thomas said. “I think I slept 1-2 and then 6:30 to 8 this morning. I’ve really been having trouble sleeping. The last few days have really been a blur.
By the look of Thomas’ play and the results on the score sheet, you would think that the veteran netminder had been very well rested entering the tournament opener.
Thomas and Team USA will have little chance to catch up on their sleep as game two is Saturday evening at Minsk Arena against Switzerland.
RIGA, Latvia – Patrick O’Sullivan (Winston Salem, N.C./Houston Aeros), added to the 2006 U.S. Men’s National Team roster yesterday and arriving just four hours before the game tonight, scored the game-winner off a one-timer on a four-on-three man advantage 2:27 into the third period as Team USA downed host Latvia, 4-2, at the 2006 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship. The game was played before a raucous crowd of 9,083 at Arena Riga.
The win guaranteed the United States a spot in the quarterfinal round regardless of how it fares Tuesday (May 16) in its final Qualification Round game against the Czech Republic.
“It was one of the most difficult environments I’ve ever been involved in,” said Mike Eaves, head coach of Team USA, referring to the deafening noise made by the Latvian crowd throughout the game, aided by use of horns, drums and other noisemakers. “It took our players a while to get used to it and adapt. We persevered though. I’m pleased with the victory and happy we’re moving on.
After a scoreless first period, Team USA got out to a 1-0 lead just 59 seconds into the second stanza when Ryan Malone (Pittsburgh, Pa./Pittsburgh Penguins/St. Cloud State University) deflected Mark Cullen’s (Moorhead, Minn./Chicago Blackhawks/Colorado College) shot from the left point high up into the air and over the head of Latvian netminder Sergejs Naumovs. Latvia answered just 1:13 later as Lauris Darzins took advantage of a U.S. turnover and spun around from the side of the right circle to fire one past netminder Craig Anderson (Park Ridge, Ill./Chicago Blackhawks). The Americans regained the lead at 14:39 when Dustin Brown (Ithaca, N.Y./Los Angeles Kings) banged home his own rebound with the United States up a man. It looked as though Team USA would take a two-goal lead less than 30 seconds later, but replays showed Mike Komisarek’s (West Islip, N.Y./Montreal Canadiens/University of Michigan) blast from the top of the left circle rang off both posts.
Latvia tied the game just 1:00 into the third period when Aleksandrs Semjonovs beat Anderson to the glove side from 12-feet out. Just 1:27 later, O’Sullivan scored what proved to be the game-winner off a nice feed from Cullen. Defenseman Ryan Suter(Madison, Wis./Nashville Predators/University of Wisconsin) added an insurance goal for Team USA at 9:50 when he blasted one through the legs of Naumovs from the left dot on the power play.
Anderson picked up the win in goal for Team USA with 22 saves while Naumovs had 23 stops in the loss.
Team USA has two days off before facing the Czech Republic Tuesday (May 16) in the final qualification-round game for both teams. Opening faceoff is set for 3:15 p.m. local time (8:15 a.m. EDT) at Arena Riga.
NOTES: Team USA had a big night on special teams. The U.S. power play connected on three-of-nine opportunities, while the Americans killed off nine of 10 Latvian power-play attempts … Catherine Todd Bailey, the U.S. ambassador to Latvia, attended tonight’s game … Brown had a power-play goal tonight. He has four goals in the World Championship, all on the power play.
LAT 0-1-1 -- 2
USA 0-2-2 -- 4
First Period – Scoring: None. Penalties: LAT, Daugavins (high-sticking), 0:48; Semjonovs (high-sticking), 3:33; Semjonovs (high-sticking), 3:33; USA, Bench (too many players), 7:10; USA, Gill (cross-checking), 9:24; USA, Malone (boarding), 11:24; USA, Gill (cross-checking), 12:54; LAT, Saviels (holding), 18:54.
Second Period – Scoring: 1, USA, Malone (Cullen, Brown), 0:59; 2, LAT, Darzins (unassisted), 2:12; 3, USA, Brown (Kessel), 14:39 (pp). Penalties: USA, Brown (charging), 3:57; USA, Brown (cross-checking), 6:57; LAT, Pujacs (tripping), 13:04; USA, Gill (holding), 16:59; LAT, Saviels (interference), 17:36; LAT, Galvins (hooking), 19:00; USA, Brown (interference), 19:15.
Third Period – Scoring: 4, LAT, Semjonovs (Daugavins), 1:00 (pp); 5, USA, O’Sullivan (Cullen), 2:27 (pp); USA, Suter (unassisted), 9:50 (pp). Penalties: USA, Gill (high-sticking), 0:38; LAT, Tambijevs (slashing), 0:38; USA, Kessel (roughing), 1:30; LAT, Pujacs (roughing), 1:30; LAT, Darzins (high-sticking), 2:11; USA, Meyer (tripping), 7:40; LAT, Nizivijs (holding), 9:25; USA, Brown (charging), 10:32.
Shots By Period 1 2 3 Total
LAT 7 8 9 24
USA 11 10 6 27
Goaltending (SH-SV) 1 2 3 Total
LAT, Naumovs, 60:00 11-11 10-8 6-4 27-23
USA, Anderson, 60:00 7-7 8-7 9-8 24-22
Power Play: LAT 1-10, USA 3-9
Penalties: LAT 11-22, USA 12-24
Officials: Referee-Peter Jonak; Linesmen-Milan Novak, Leo Takula