MINSK, Belarus – Four U.S. players scored goals and the U.S rallied to tie the game three times, but the U.S. Men's National Team fell to Latvia, 6-5, in the preliminary round of the International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championship here today.
“Tonight was disappointing because we fought back a couple times to get into the game and then we made some mistakes that cost us the game,” said Peter Laviolette, head coach of the 2014 U.S. Men’s National Team. “We have a big game coming up tomorrow night against Kazakhstan, so we’ll regroup and be ready.”
Latvia scored the game’s first goal at 15:39 of the opening frame, but Craig Smith (Madison, Wis./University of Wisconsin/Nashville Predators) found the back of the net one minute later to tie the game at 1-1. After Latvia chipped the puck out to center, Jake Gardiner (Minnetonka, Minn./University of Wisconsin/Toronto Maple Leafs) made a quick transition pass to Smith, springing him cleanly into the offensive zone. Smith worked his way to the top of the right circle and fired a shot past Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis’ blocker.
The Latvians converted on a rebound at 18:57 of the first period and then scored a power-play marker at 8:08 of the second stanza to build a 3-1 advantage. Brock Nelson (Warroad, Minn./University of North Dakota/N.Y. Islanders) and Tyler Johnson (Spokane, Wash./Tampa Bay Lightning) netted back-to-back power-play goals to bring the U.S. back to even.
Seth Jones (Plano, Texas/Nashville Predators) started the first play when he fed Nelson with a pass at the left dot. Nelson took the puck, turned towards the net and flipped a backhander over Gudlevskis’ shoulder at 8:57 to make it 3-2. Then, just 1:03 later, Johnson parked at the side of the net and knocked a rebound in to knot the score at 3-3. Smith and Jacob Trouba (Rochester, Mich./University of Michigan/Winnipeg Jets) were credited with the assists on the play.
Latvia took a 4-3 lead with 8:35 remaining in regulation when Kaspars Daugavins beat U.S. goaltender Tim Thomas (Flint, Mich./University of Vermont/Dallas Stars) with a shot from the point, but Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass./Boston College) answered quickly when he tipped a Jones shot just inside the far post.
The Latvians grabbed the lead for good with 5:23 left in the third period on a goal during a delayed penalty. They made it 6-4 on a breakaway with 2:21 to play in the contest.
Nelson cut the Latvia lead to 6-5 with 1:30 remaining in regulation when he redirected a Johnny Gaudreau (Carneys Point, N.J./Boston College/Calgary Flames) pass into the net, but the U.S. couldn't knot the score despite a late push.
The U.S. Men’s National Team (2-0-0-2) continues preliminary-round play tomorrow (May 16) at 9:45 a.m. ET against Kazakhstan. The game will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network.
HELSINKI, Finland -- In anticipation of tomorrow’s quarterfinal against host Finland (11:30 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Network in U.S.), Team USA exuded calm and confidence while speaking to the media following Wednesday’s practice at Hartwall Arena.
It is evident that the youthful group, with an average age of just over 25, has relished its recent time spent together, bonding and quickly developing chemistry on the ice here in Finland.
“A lot of us have known each other for a long time, whether it’s playing with or against each other, so it’s been fun to get together in a tournament like this,” said U.S. captain Jack Johnson, who is playing in the world championship for the fifth time. “It kind of reminds me of the 2010 Olympic Team where no one expected us to do anything there, and everyone was willing to do whatever it took to win. We’re a real similar team.”
Defenseman Cam Fowler, who scored his first goal of the tournament on a slick give-and-go with Paul Stastny in last night’s 5-2 victory over Switzerland, echoed similar sentiments.
"It’s tough to kind of mold together when you only have a week of practice,” said Fowler. “I think at the world juniors and here, we’ve done a great job of doing that. I think it’s just the personalities of the guys we have and coming forward toward the same goal. Now we know what we have to do moving forward.”
Along with a third period tally by Chris Butler, Fowler and Butler became the 16th and 17th U.S. players to score a goal at the 2012 IIHF World Championship.
“Our game plan is really bringing everyone into the offense, whether it be different lines or the defense,” said Max Pacioretty, who with 12 points (2-10) in seven games leads Team USA. “We try to include all five players in the offensive zone and that’s how we put pucks in the net.”
“It’s tough to rely solely on one line or a couple of players,” said Johnson. “Fortunately for us, that’s not the case right now. Nobody cares who gets the credit and when you have a group of guys like this it’s a special thing.”
“Our defense has a lot to do with that, jumping in all the time and helping out us forwards,” said Stastny, about the team’s balanced scoring. “All the guys are clicking and we are successful when all four lines have good puck possession down low.”
Justin Faulk, the youngest player on the squad at 20-years old, has been an offensive force on the blue line, displaying poise and maturity. The young talent is tied for third among all defensemen in the tournament with seven points (4-3).
“Everyone is playing well together, finding each other and no one is being too selfish out there,” said the Carolina Hurricane defenseman. “Our defense has been chipping in and jumping into the rush and that’s been huge for us.”
Under Head Coach Scott Gordon, the U.S. concluded the preliminary round at 6-1, marking only the second time in history (1939), Team USA has won six of its first seven games in the world championship.
Starting in goal for the Finns Thursday will be Petri Vehanen. Dallas Star Kari Lehtonen suffered a lower body injury in the latter half of the third period in Sunday’s game against the U.S. and did not practice Wednesday.
“It doesn’t matter who they play in goal,” said Stastny, who had three goals and nine assists in the preliminary round. “Every goalie is good at this point. Plain and simple, you have to get in front of them, make them move and get second chances.”
With high expectations playing in front of the home crowd in what is a hockey-crazed nation, the pressure will surely be on the defending World Champion Finns come Thursday.
“Obviously, they’re probably feeling the pressure being their home tournament, but I don’t think its any real advantage in a one-game knockout where anything can happen,” said Johnson.
“We know we’re playing a completely different game and you can throw away the last one,” said Pacioretty. “They’re going to come out a lot hungrier and it’s going to be a battle. It will be a crazy barn to play in.”
For Team USA, expectations have grown as they’ve steadily progressed as a unit in Helsinki. The last American medal at a World Championship came in 2004, when they claimed bronze in Prague, Czech Republic, and it’s been 52 years since the U.S. has captured a world title.
“This team has the potential to do great in this tournament,” said Johnson. “We’re just here to have fun and we’re here to win it.”
“We know USA hasn’t done too well at the world championships and if we do well here the sport will continue growing in the U.S.,” added Stastny. “We’re here for a reason – we’re here to win. Tomorrow is such a big game for us and that’s why we’re so excited.”