Team USA returned to the CEZ Arena ice in an upbeat mood, with Jack Eichel’s dramatic overtime goal from the previous night’s victory over Slovakia fresh in their minds. However the task at hand quickly shifted towards its next opponent, Switzerland.
Concluding the preliminary round with an impressive 5-1-0-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record, the U.S. achieved top honors in Group B and will meet Switzerland, who finished fourth in Group A, on Thursday afternoon in Ostrava (3:15 p.m. local time/9:15 a.m. EST). The game will broadcast live in the U.S. on NBCSN and also streamed live via NBC Sports Live Extra.
“I think everyone is in a pretty good mood right now, finishing first in the pool is what we wanted and we were able to get that done, but the tougher games start now,“ said U.S. defenseman and alternate captain Justin Faulk. “We’re just coming out here trying to sharpen up a few things. We had a good practice.“
“We want to play three games in the next four nights, so we have to be careful how we manage practice and our energy here coming down the stretch,“ said Todd Richards, head coach of the 2015 U.S. Men’s National Team. “For me, it was more about what we talked about in the lockerroom. We had discussions about an emotional game last night, talking about the right things, but it has to come down to actions moving forward.“
Switzerland, with four NHL players on its roster including Colorado Avalanche goaltender Reto Berra and Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi, finished the preliminary round at 2-0-4-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L). Considering that the Swiss lost four games in overtime and four were decided by one goal, the U.S. should expect a tight-checking affair against a nation which won a world championship silver medal in 2013.
“It’s going to be a tough game – Switzerland always plays a very team-oriented game,“ said Eichel, who contributed six points (2G, 4A) in the preliminary round. “It’s going to be a battle; they have a lot of speed and obviously a good goaltender.“
“They’re a hard working team and they’re going to pressure us everywhere,“ said U.S. forward and alternate captain Trevor Lewis. “When we play a simple game and are really effective on the forecheck and getting pucks up quick, I think we‘re a good team. We’re going to have to be ready to go right off the bat.“
In 2013, Switzerland defeated the U.S. in the semifinals in Stockholm en route to their silver medal, while the U.S. won a shootout over Finland to take bronze. Faulk, a 2014 Olympian, was also a member of that team.
“I’ve been lucky enough play in a lot of these tournaments and international events,“ Faulk said. “Anytime you have a chance to medal or get into a position where you can compete for a gold medal – that is what you want and why we came here.“
On the statistical front, Brock Nelson has notched a team-leading six goals to date, tying him for second in the tournament. He also has nine points in the world championship to lead Team USA, just two behind the tournament leaders.
Winnipeg Jets goaltending prospect Connor Hellebuyck has won five games and is second in the tournament in save percentage (.942) and third in goals against average (1.38).
“He’s been great from day one, to be honest I didn’t know much about him,“ said U.S. captain Matt Hendricks about the 23-year-old netminder who played for St. John’s of the American Hockey League this season. “He’s a big kid, always has a smile on his face and works hard in practice. We’ve given up a lot of breakaways and odd-man rushes on him, but he’s been the guy we’ve needed him to be to continue to win games.“
Jim Johannson, who leads the management group for the 2015 U.S. Men’s National Team and is USA Hockey’s assistant executive director for hockey operations, has liked what he has witnessed from a young group which averages 24.3 years of age.
“I’d say the true appreciation level (of this tournament) is probably as high as I’ve seen and I think that comes from some of our guys that haven’t worn the jersey for us,“ Johannson said. “There’s a lot of good stories in the room and I think the guys are rooting for each other, while enjoying it themselves.“
The winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal contest will transition to Prague and O2 Arena to play in the semifinals Saturday against the winner of the Russia/Sweden quarterfinal. Gold and bronze medal games take place on Sunday.
|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 17||Czech Republic
Bronze Medal Game