PRAGUE -- The 2015 U.S. Men's National Team arrived here early this afternoon to eager autograph seekers and television cameras.
Perhaps reminiscent of another era, the players and coaching staff boarded a Friday morning train, making the 220-mile westbound journey from Ostrava to the Czech capital by rail.
“Our goal was to make it to Prague and we're here, so that's a good feeling,“ said Todd Richards, head coach of the 2015 U.S. Men’s National Team. "But our goal wasn't just to make it Prague. We're here to win and that is our focus."
“I think we’re all looking forward to Prague because not a lot of us have been there before,“ said 23-year-old U.S. goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. “Personally, I want to see the whole city and hear that there is a really good fan base there, so it should be a lot of fun.“
The U.S. team punched its ticket to the 2015 IIHF Men’s World Championship semifinals with Thursday‘s hard-fought 3-1 quarterfinal victory over Switzerland. Ben Smith and Charlie Coyle scored 57 seconds apart midway through the second period and Jake Gardiner added an insurance goal in the final frame. Hellebuyck made 21 saves, oddly the same total for the fourth consecutive game, earning his sixth win of the tournament.
“Our time in Ostrava was great,“ Richards said of the third largest Czech city, where the U.S. won seven of eight games over a span of 14 days. “The facilities were great, the people were great and our stay was a memorable one, but our ultimate goal was to get to Prague and we’ve reached that goal.“
As the team settles in Prague – often referred to as the Golden City – it’s back to business with a rematch against Russia set for Saturday evening (7:15 p.m./1:15 p.m. EST). The U.S. defeated its Russian rivals, 4-2, in the second contest of the preliminary round on May 4. This time, the teams will meet in Prague’s O2 Arena.
“It’s very exciting – obviously I don’t have a medal yet at a world championship, so I’m very excited to play“ said U.S. defenseman Seth Jones, who has won two U18 world titles and a World Junior championship. “Everyone in the room – we’re all young and I think we’re still full of lots of energy.“
“It’s obviously big for our team going to the medal round,“ said U.S. forward Jimmy Vesey, who helped the U.S. win gold in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship. “Anytime you come to these tournaments, you want to be playing in the medal round. We’ve accomplished our first goal of winning the pool and now we’re in the medal round so it feels really good.“
Russia earned its semifinal berth by downing Sweden, 5-3, aided by a pair of goals from Evgeni Malkin.
“It’s going to be a great hockey game,“ said Richards, who was an assistant coach in Sochi, behind the bench for Team USA’s dramatic shoot out win over its Russian nemesis at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. “Obviously, I’ve seen the Russians. I was able to watch some of the other games that they’ve played. I know a lot of the players on that team and I know what they can do.“
The U.S. is making its second trip to the tournament semifinals in three years. In 2013, they were defeated by Switzerland in the semis, but bounced back to defeat Finland in a shootout and earn a bronze medal. Alex Galchenyuk scored the game winning goal and John Gibson provided heroics in net.
With three games in four days, the U.S. will not practice today. Team USA will be back on the ice late tomorrow morning for a pre-game skate prior to its 7:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m. ET) faceoff against Russia.
|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