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After Day Off, U.S. Preparing for Belarus

05/06/2015, 10:30am EDT
By USA Hockey

Team USA Looking to go 4-0

OSTRAVA, Czech Republic -- It was back to practice for Team USA today (May 6), with focus shifting toward its matchup with Belarus tomorrow at CEZ Arena. Opening faceoff is set for 4:15 p.m. (10:15 a.m. ET) and the game can be seen live on NBCSN in the U.S., and will be streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra.

U.S. Men’s National Team coach Todd Richards gave his players a well-deserved day off on Tuesday, following Monday’s all around team effort, which resulted in a 4-2 victory over Russia.

The U.S. squad has captured significant attention following an impressive 3-0 start at the 2015 IIHF World Championship.

During an upbeat session at the CEZ Arena practice rink, Richards emphasized building on the numerous positives of the three opening wins, while focusing on improvement, particularly on the power play, where the team has converted just one of ten chances.

“Just passing the puck, feeling good, get the legs going a little bit and working on a few things, mainly power play stuff, but I thought it was a productive day,”

U.S. team captain Matt Hendricks confirmed his coach’s assertion.

“Pace was good today after a much needed day of rest,” said the 33-year-old Hendricks, the eldest member of a team that averages 24.3 years of age.

“Tempo was a little bit higher than we’ve seen at the last full practice, guys are upbeat and happy with where we’re sitting with the standings, but know we need to improve. It was a good workday.”

Richards, who has coached the Columbus Blue Jackets for the past three seasons, discussed keys to jump-starting the team’s power play.

“Our power play still has to get better and I’m not talking about scoring goals, I’m talking about moving the puck, generating some momentum and some opportunities,” Richards said. “At times, we’ve been too slow at that."

“The power play can do a little bit more, but we had a big one last game and we have to build on that,” said U.S. forward Brock Nelson  “Hopefully, if we get a couple opportunities against Belarus, we’ll capitalize.”

“Our five-on-five game, defensive zone coverage, neutral zone – you can see the guys have done a good job with,” Richards said. “The one area is getting our power play going.”

Belarus sits tied for second place behind the U.S. in the tournament Group B standings, having defeated Slovenia and Denmark, while losing to Slovakia in overtime. Four of eight teams will advance to the quarterfinals on May 14.

Team USA has outscored its three opponents 11-4, while receiving balanced scoring. Nine different players have tallied goals.

Also of note, 2014 Olympian Justin Faulk and fellow defenseman Torey Krug are tied atop the tournament plus/minus leaders, each at plus six.

In Monday’s victory over Russia, 18-year-old Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Eichel won a face-off triggering a play that led to Trevor Lewis scoring the team’s first goal. The assist was Eichel’s first point of the tournament. Eichel, who notched 26 goals in 40 games as a freshman for Boston University this season, is eager to make a greater contribution.

“Just chip in wherever need be – I’d like to contribute a lot more offensively,” said Eichel, who won 16-of-21 face-offs versus Russia. “I’ve had some chances and I think if I get one, then they’ll start to come a little more. I’ll just do whatever the team asks me – move my feet, compete hard, and win my battles.”

Team USA has benefitted from stellar play from its two young goaltenders, Connor Hellebuyck, 21, and Jack Campbell, 23. Hellebuyck obtained wins against Finland and Norway, while Campbell stepped in to help shut down Russia in Monday’s triumph.

The duo has only allowed four goals, combining for a tournament leading 1.33 goals against average and a .943 save percentage.

“We got two quality starts from Hellebuyck and a quality start from our other guy Campbell, so it’s a great problem to have,” Richards said. “It’s two goalies on top of their game.

“I expect the same thing [moving forward], but in front of them, our team game has to be good.”

“We can continue to improve and we’re going to have to,” Richards continued.  “As I told the guys, when you’re at the top with nine points, you have a big target on your back.”

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2015 Results

Date Opponent Time (Local/ET)/Result
April 28 Austria (ex.) W, 4-1
May 1 Finland W, 5-1
May 2 Norway W, 2-1
May 4 Russia W, 4-2
May 7 Belarus L, 2-5
May 8 Denmark W, 1-0
May 10 Slovenia W, 3-1
May 12 Slovakia W, 5-4 OT
May 14 Switzerland
W, 3-1
May 16 Russia
L, 0-4
May 17 Czech Republic
Bronze Medal Game
W, 3-0

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