MINSK, Belarus - In a fast-paced, back-and-forth contest filled with dramatic momentum swings, Johnny Gaudreau stole the show in Team USA’s 5-4 win over Germany.
The immensely skilled and highly crafty 20-year old forward from Carneys Point, N.J., scored a scintillating, highlight-reel goal, while adding three slick assists. Gaudreau’s four-point effort propelled the U.S. to a victory that they needed to ensure a higher seed in Thursday’s quarterfinal.
The five-foot-eight Gaudreau – who made his NHL debut on April 18, scoring on his first shot for the Calgary Flames – was a magician with the puck.
“He really sees the ice well; he’s really deadly on this big ice with time and space,” said U.S. captain Justin Abdelkader, who scored twice off Gaudreau assists, the second goal in the third period being the game winner. “It’s a big tournament for him with training camp next season (with Calgary) and I’ve seen him get better with more confidence.”
“It was nice to help the team out offensively,” Gaudreau said of his four-point afternoon. “I have a lot of great linemates, playing with older guys like (Tim) Stapleton (31) and Abdelkader (27), and they’ve definitely been helping me out here down the stretch.”
Gaudreau swiftly cut around multiple German defenders, adding a sleek toe-drag move, before roofing a shot past the goalie that gave the U.S. a 4-3 lead early in the third period. No. 53 and company raised their arms in celebration, but because the puck ricocheted so quickly back onto the ice play continued. After a stoppage and video review more than 90 seconds later, Gaudreau was finally credited with the crucial power-play tally.
“I was trying to make a pass backdoor first and I saw they were holding the middle, so I brought it in, made a little move and got a good shot off,” said Gaudreau about the goal. “It was a good screen by Abby (Abdelkader).”
With ten points (2-8), Gaudreau leads Team USA (4-1-0-2; W-OTW-OTL-L) in scoring with the seven-game world championship preliminary round now in the books.
“This is my first opportunity to work firsthand with Johnny and he’s a very, very impressive talent for the United States,” said U.S. head coach Peter Laviolette of Gaudreau. “Not just what you see on the ice, but he’s a terrific person off the ice. On the ice, he displays a tremendous amount of talent with his offensive skills.
“He’s a very smart player and battles and competes very hard for his size. It’s been my pleasure to get to work with a guy like that,” Laviolette said.
Gaudreau – the 2014 winner of the Hobey Baker Award starring for Boston College – continues to prosper on the international scene. Last year, Gaudreau led all scorers with seven goals as the U.S. claimed gold at the IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
“He’s one of those guys you don’t like playing against as a defenseman,” said Seth Jones of his 2013 U.S. National Junior Team colleague. “His feet are quick and he can turn you inside out. He played great for us tonight.”
Over three seasons at Boston College, Gaudreau accumulated numerous honors and helped the Eagles to an NCAA title during his freshman year.
“He did it all year at school, and I expect nothing less from him here,” said Gaudreau’s Boston College linemate Kevin Hayes, who at times, has been paired with him in Minsk. “He’s one of the best players in the country and he’s just being Johnny doing ‘Johnny things.’ Everyone thinks he’s really small, but he uses it to his advantage. No one really hits him and he spins off guys like I’ve never seen.”
As seen at Minsk Arena on Tuesday, Gaudreau is elevating his game – now leading all scorers at the tournament in assists with eight – and his offensive firepower and dynamic playmaking are providing a timely boost to a youthful U.S. squad as elimination round play begins.
Regarding playing in Minsk and having the chance to win a second world championship medal in two seasons as a member of Team USA, Gaudreau said: “I’m just really enjoying my time here over the past week-and-a-half. I’m excited and it should be fun”
Follow Brian on Twitter - @Brian_Pinelli
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.”