MINSK, Belarus - If Team USA can topple Jaromir Jagr and the Czech Republic tomorrow afternoon in Minsk, it will take a huge leap forward toward winning a second consecutive world championship medal, something it hasn’t accomplished in 64 years.
“I think we’re a very good team to be honest and we’re very capable of winning the tournament,” said U.S. defenseman Seth Jones, following a practice Tuesday afternoon. “Anything can happen in the medal round.”
Stopping the 42-year-old Jagr – who leads the Czech Republic in tournament scoring with four goals and three assists – will be among the top priorities for Team USA.
“Try to put a body on him,” Jones said about keys to limiting Jagr’s chances around the net. “I’ll try to use my size against him, he’s obviously a very big guy and very strong with the puck, so you try to contain him to the outside.”
U.S. goaltender Tim Thomas – who will start his eighth consecutive game in Minsk – says that Jagr’s biggest weapon is his desire.
“It’s his desire to win and he comes to compete every night,” Thomas said. “When someone has that type of hunger, you have to be ready to match it.”
There are numerous similarities between these two teams: loads of youth, a 40-year-old plus leader who has hoisted the Stanley Cup (Jagr & Thomas), and a thrilling, young, scoring phenom (Johnny Gaudreau and Thomas Hertl). Moreover, the two countries recently met at the quarterfinal at the Sochi Olympics, the U.S. eliminating the Czechs, 5-2.
U.S. head coach Peter Laviolette was an assistant in Sochi and also at the helm behind the bench at the 2004 World Championship in Prague, leading the team to a bronze medal including a dramatic quarterfinal shootout victory over the Czechs.
Team USA (4-1-0-2; W-OTW-OTL-L) enters the quarterfinal contest at Chizhovka Arena coming off consecutive victories over Kazakhstan, Finland and Germany, while the Czech Republic (2-2-2-1) has also won two in a row.
“I’m pleased with the progress that we’ve made and we’ve had to win some big hockey games,” Laviolette said of Team USA at the tournament. “We’re pleased that we’re here in the crossover round, but not satisfied and we want to go further in this tournament.”
With his sensational, highlight-reel, four-point performance in the win over Germany, the 20-year-old Gaudreau leads the tournament in assists with eight, while also becoming the leading scorer for the U.S. with ten points (2-8). Nineteen-year-old Jones is tops among all defenseman in scoring at the world championship with nine points (2-7).
Team USA – the youngest team in the tournament with an average age of under 25 – has been dangerous offensively tallying 27 goals in seven games, third overall behind only Russia and Canada.
Six of the seven contests the Czechs have played in have been decided by one goal (and the seventh by two goals). To add to the drama, considering that Jagr recently became the NHL’s all-time leader with 119 game-winning goals.
The Jagr-led Czechs have only five NHL players on their roster. Another five are teammates on Lev Praha, the Kontinental Hockey League franchise that was just one victory away from winning the Gagarin Cup last month.
Team USA boasts the top power play of the tournament, converting 10 of 36 chances (27.78%) and considering that the Czechs are the fourth most penalized team in Minsk, the man-advantage could be key.
“Coach (Phil) Housley has done a tremendous job putting two power play units together so quickly,” said Gaudreau about the U.S. assistant coach. “We put a lot of time and effort on the power play and he’s a great coach.”
“We’re moving the puck around pretty well and we have some skilled guys out there who know how to score and make plays,” Jones said. “It’s definitely clicking.”
The last world championship meeting between the two nations came in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2011 when the Czechs won 4-0 in a quarterfinal round game.
The victor of Thursday’s showdown at Chizhovka Arena will advance to meet the winner of Canada-Finland in a semifinal, Saturday at Minsk Arena.
“It’s obviously do-or-die now,” Jones said. “We have to play A-plus hockey from here on out.”
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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – Jaromir Jagr scored three times to lead defending world champion Czech Republic to a 4-0 victory over the U.S. Men's National Team here today in quarterfinal action of the International Ice Hockey Federation World Men's Championship. Team USA finishes the tournament with a 3-0-1-3 (W-OTW-OTL-L) overall record.
"I thought we played hard," said Scott Gordon, head coach of Team USA. "We had our chances, particularly in the first two periods, but just couldn't get one in the back of the net. This was a terrific group of young players that I really enjoyed coaching."
It was a fast-paced first period with both teams having scoring chances. The U.S. nearly scored just over three minutes into the game when a puck slid behind Czech goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and careened off the post. Perhaps the best U.S. scoring chance in the period came for Craig Smith(Madison, Wis./University of Wisconsin) on the power play from the slot off a nice feed fromDerek Stepan(Hastings, Minn./New York Rangers/University of Wisconsin), but Pavelec was equal to the test. The Czechs scored with just 1:15 left in the opening period when Jagr fired a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that beat Ty Conklin (Anchorage, Alaska/St. Louis Blues/University of New Hampshire).
The U.S. started the second period on the power play and had a brief two-man advantage, but could not convert. The Czech Republic, however, did convert on its two-man advantage at 4:47 when Jagr fired a one-timer from the right faceoff circle that hit a piece of Mike Komisarek's (Islip Terrace, N.Y./Toronto Maple Leafs/University of Michigan) stick and deflected past Conklin.
Just past the midway point of the final frame, Tomas Plekanec put the Czech Republic ahead by a 3-0 count when he fired a slap shot from the left faceoff circle that beat Conklin high on the glove side. Jagr notched his third goal of the game after a give-and-go with Plekanec that finished off the scoring at 16:25 while on the power play.
Conklin made 35 saves in the loss for Team USA, while Pavelec stopped all 29 shots for the Czech Republic in the win.
NOTES: Mike Komisarek was named the U.S. Player of the Game ... Derek Stepanfinished as Team USA's point leader with 2-5--7 in seven games. Craig Smith was second in points with 3-3--6 and paced Team USA in goals ... Team USA's three best players of the tournament were Ryan Shannon, Derek Stepan and Craig Smith... For Team USA coverage from Slovakia at the IIHF World Men's Championship, including game blogs and postgame video, visit the U.S. Men's National Team blog... The 2011 U.S. Men’s National Team was under the direction of the U.S. Men’s National Team Advisory Group, including NHL general managers Brian Burke(Toronto), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles), David Poile(Nashville), Ray Shero (Pittsburgh) and Dale Tallon (Florida); Atlanta Thrashers presidentDon Waddell; and Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director for hockey operations. Paul Fenton, assistant general manager of the Nashville Predators and general manager of the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals, served as associate general manager of the 2011 U.S. Men's National Team ... Scott Gordon was head coach for the second consecutive year after leading the 2010 U.S. Men's National Team, while Greg Cronin, Phil Housley and Barry Smith served as assistants ... USA Hockey's international council, chaired by Tony Rossi, vice president of USA Hockey, has oversight responsibilities for all U.S. national teams ... Versus provided television coverage of all Team USA's game at the 2011 IIHF World Men's Championship and will be broadcasting the semifinal round and gold-medal game as well.
Scoring By Period
CZE 1- 1- 2- 4
USA 0- 0- 0- 0
First Period - Scoring: 1, CZE, Jagr (Cervenka), 18:45. Penalties: USA, Gaustad (interference), 5:58; CZE, Krajicek (interference), 10:12; CZE, Caslava (high-sticking), 20:00.
Second Period - Scoring: 2, CZE, Jagr (Plekanec, Rachunek), 4:47 (5x3 pp). Penalties: CZE, Rachunek (slashing), 1:48; USA, Wheeler (slashing), 3:01; USA, van Riemsdyk (elbowing), 3:20.
Third Period - Scoring: 3, CZE, Plekanec (Frolik, Zidlicky), 10:33; 4, CZE, Jagr (Plekanec), 16:25 (pp). Penalties: USA, Stuart (slashing), 10:56; USA, Smith (slashing), 15:28.
Shots by Period 1 2 3 Total
CZE 12 13 14 39
USA 12 11 6 29
Goaltenders (SH/SV) 1 2 3 Total
CZE, Pavelec, 60:00 12-12 11-11 6-6 29-29
USA, Conklin, 60:00 12-11 13-12 14-12 39-35
Power Play: CZE 2-5; USA 0-3
Penalties: CZE 3-6; USA 5-10
Referees: Darcy Burchell, Brent Reiber
Linesmen: Chris Carlson, Kiel Murchison