Triple salvo sinks hosts
Incisive Americans cut through Belarus
A three-goal salvo deep in the second period poured torrential rain on Belarus' Victory Day parade as a youthful USA team handed the host nation a comprehensive 6-1 defeat on Day 1 of the World Championship.
It was a one-goal game up to the 35th minute when the Americans decisively stretched that advantage. Jacob Trouba's one-timer made it 2-0 after Dan Dekeyser's surge behind the net and within a minute the highly-rated NCAA star Johnny Gaudreau notched his first senior international goal.
Gaudreau, who also scored on his NHL debut earlier this season, produced a fine effort to open his account as well; a precise wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that ripped over Andrei Mezin's glove on its way to the top corner.
Team USA continue to press and it was soon four as Colin McDonald arrived on the slot to convert Jimmy Hayes' tempting backhander across the face of Mezin's net and reduce Belarusian dreams to dust.
The speed and scale of the collapse - the three goals came in the space of less than three minutes - was a bitter blow for a home crowd that came full of hope and eager to celebrate the arrival of a top-level sports tournament event on Belarusian soil.
But the opposition admitted that the scoreline did not fairly reflect the efforts of the host nation, which arguably deserved better than a heavy opening day loss.
American goalie Tim Thomas said: "They are a fast team that skates really hard and pressures well. I was not coming into this expecting an easy game.Continue reading
"The game was a lot closer than the score. They got some chances right down the middle which we were trying to keep them away from. Fortunately we were able to get through their early push."
Belarus has waited a long time to welcome the world to an event of this scale and the home team was determined to ensure its efforts did not go unnoticed on or off the ice.
A day of patriotic song and dance outside the Minsk Arena, combining the annual Victory Day celebrations with opening night excitement, helped to whip a big home crowd into a fervour before the puck was dropped.
And that energy from the stands inspired team Belarus to a lively start against a youthful and inexperienced American roster that found itself facing a storm of passion.
"I can't have any complaints about the mood of this team," said Belarus skipper Alexei Kaluzhny. "We went out there in good shape with a real desire to win the game. But those few minutes at the end of the second period were crucial, and then we went out at the start of the third period and played well but couldn't score. If we'd taken one or two of those chances we might have got back into the game."
There could be few complaints about the attacking play of Kaluzhny and his first line partners Mikhail Grabovski and Andrei Stepanov. They combined effectively on several occasions early on but could not convert its chances; Stepanov in particular was culpable of a glaring miss on the first power play of the evening, firing agonisingly wide after exploiting a huge gap in the U.S. defence and deking goalie Tim Thomas.
That reprieve invigorated the visitors, and the game became an absorbing end-to-end spectacle, with every American advance greeted by anxious whistles and each Belarusian block or hit cheered to the rafters. But one of the slickest moves of the game saw Team U.S.A. convert its first power play and grab the lead.
Tyler Johnson fed Craig Smith, whose instinctive flick pass found Brook Nelson on the post for a simple finish. It was a goal that typified the difference between the teams: Belarus, for all its desire, rarely produced this kind of incisive passing around Thomas's net; Andrei Mezin at the other end frequently found himself stretched as the Americans carved out sharp-edged opportunities.
However, Belarus shaded the early exchanges in the second stanza only to lose its momentum after being penalized for having too many men on the ice. Despite killing that minor, there was no way to recover the initiative and the wiles of the American offence ultimately took their toll.
At least there was a champagne moment for the home support to savour on the final play of the second session when Stepanov finally got the goal his efforts deserved. A lovely bit of tic-tac-toe from his linemates saw Grabovski deliver a perfectly-weighted pass out in front of the net and the Amur Khabarovsk forward drilled home the hosts' first marker of the competition.
But it never looked likely to inspire a fightback in a final stanza that lacked the intensity of the earlier exchanges, and it was the Americans who added to the scoring with two more power play goals. Trouba produced another long-range effort with just over five minutes to play before Jake Gardiner claimed the sixth after his shot pinballed over the line on a deflection from the luckless Roman Graborenko.