PRAGUE – Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck delivered a stellar performance between the pipes denying all 39 Czech Republic shots, while Team USA’s feisty penalty killers took care of business as the U.S. won a bronze medal at the 2015 IIHF Men‘s World Championship.
Team USA blanked the Czech Republic 3-0 to claim its second bronze medal over the past three world championships.
“It’s just a huge honor,“ said U.S. captain Matt Hendricks regarding the team’s bronze medal performance. “It’s my first opportunity to play in an international tournament, everything fell in line and we were able to get a medal. I’m really happy about that.“
“Anytime you get a chance to win a medal at an international tournament, it’s quite an accomplishment,“ said U.S. defenseman and alternate captain Justin Faulk. .
For the 23-year-old Hellebuyck, a Winnipeg Jets prospect, the 3-0 victory was his second shutout of the tournament. The Commerce, Michigan, native concluded the 17-day world championship with a 7-1 record, along with a 1.37 goals against average and a .948 save percentage, both statistics tops among all goalies.
“It was definitely a team shutout tonight – they really paid the price and made my life a little bit easier,“ Hellebuyck said after the game, a bronze medal draped around his neck.
Hellebuyck, who played for St. John’s of the American Hockey League this season, was one of the standout performers and biggest surprises of the tournament.
“This is definitely a milestone in my life and I’m going to cherish it,“ said Hellebuyck, of Team USA’s bronze medal showing.
“He was a calming presence for us back there – we knew if we had a breakdown he was going to be there,“ said U.S. forward Trevor Lewis, who scored the team’s second goal late in the first period.
Of the four penalties that the U.S. was able to kill off, none was bigger than the four-minute disadvantage that they thwarted 12:17 into the second period. With the U.S. up 2-0, Nick Bonino – who contributed a goal and an assist in the winning effort – was whistled for a high-sticking double minor.
“I think we deflated them with that, but you have to give Connor Hellebuyck all the credit,“ Hendricks said. “He was our number one penalty killer again tonight.“
“A lot of guys were sacrificing and blocking shots,“ Bonino said. “The team did a heck of a job killing it off.“
“You can really tell something about a team when they’re willing to pay the price on the penalty kill,“ Hellebuyck said. “It was a momentum swing and it really showed a lot about our team’s character.“
The tide swung shortly thereafter. Less than three minutes after the U.S. killed off the double minor, Charlie Coyle found the back of the net, working a nifty give-and-go with Bonino to put the U.S. ahead 3-0. The important tally came with 49.8 left in 2nd period, providing the U.S. a solid cushion entering the final frame.
”Being able to kill off that four-minute penalty and being able to score after that was huge,” Faulk said. “It gave us a lot of momentum going into the third period.”
“This win means a lot to this group and USA Hockey,“ said Todd Richards, head coach of the 2015 U.S. Men’s National Team. “I think before we came to this tournament, not a lot of people gave us a chance to win anything so a huge amount of credit goes to the players.“
“Hopefully we can keep this run with good quality teams representing USA Hockey going,“ Faulk said.
Although the youthful U.S. team, with an average age of 24.3 years, came up short in its quest to win a gold medal, they impressed the international hockey world with the bronze-medal performance.
The U.S. lost a hard-fought semifinal battle with Russia, one day prior to Sunday’s bronze medal victory.
“It’s awesome – I think our first expectation was to win gold, but we had a young team and I’m really proud of everyone in our room,“ Lewis said. “It feels good to come away with a medal.
“A lot of these guys had their first experience in international hockey,“ Richards said.“We’ve been together for three weeks, that’s it, so what they accomplished here means a lot.“
“There were a lot of unknowns – many of us didn’t know each other and not a lot of of us had played together before,“ said Faulk, both a member of the 2013 bronze-medal-winning team and 2014 Sochi Olympic team. “We all proved each other right and made everyone happy with each others play.“
“We had a tight team, we hung out a lot and usually that pays off on the ice,“ Bonino said. “It’s a lot of fun to win with these guys and share this together.“
|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