Gaudreau vs Draisaitl
Two young talents turn it on
Two players with big NHL hopes took centre stage as team USA outlasted Germany to give itself a strong chance of grabbing second place in Group B.
But while Johnny Gaudreau, the New Jersey youngster who made his Calgary Flames debut last season, led the way with 1+3 in his team's 5-4 victory, Germany's own rising star Leon Draisaitl delivered an eye-catching display in a losing cause to round off a strong individual showing in this tournament.
Gaudreau got his goal early in the third with an outrageous bit of skill. Rushing from the blue line, he pulled off some exquisite stick-handling around the face-off spot to leave two German defencemen standing as he advanced on Danny aus den Birken and scored.
That put USA up for the fourth time, and earned Gaudreau his third point of the afternoon before he assisted Justin Abdelkader's second goal of the game, America's fifth.
But even that wasn't enough to settle the duel, with Germany's own star prospect Draisaitl getting his third point of the game, assisting on Tobias Rieder's late power play goal to keep the outcome of a helter-skelter encounter in doubt.
Abdelkader was among those who led the praise of Gaudreau: "He is a really good hockey player. He finds the open areas on the ice and sees the ice so well," he said. "When he gets time and space on the ice he is dangerous. I think his game has gotten better as we've gone through the tournament here and his confidence has grown and he's played well because of it. He's deadly when he has the puck on his stick."Continue reading
And head coach Peter Laviolette is another big fan: "This is my first opportunity to work with Johnny. He has been an important player on this team and is very talented. He's an even better person. He displays such incredible talent and is sucha smart player. That's why he's on the ice with two minutes left in the game."
Gaudreau and Draisaitl really heated up the action in the second period when the two teams began trading scores after a slow start to the day's opening attraction at Arena Minsk.
The result was an engrossing clash which rewarded the 11,000 fans who opted to spend their lunchbreaks at Minsk Arena.
Gaudreau, the man known as Johnny Hockey, was first to show in the 22nd minute. He did a great job behind the boards to tee up the opening goal, picking out captain Justin Abdelkader on the slot to stab home.
And the Flames prospect delivered another assist as the Americans made it 3-2 in the 33rd, attacking hard down the left channel and skidding the puck across the crease to present D-man Matt Donovan with a simple finish.
While the 20-year-old Boston College graduate is looking to cement his NHL place in Calgary, Draisaitl, 18, has come to Minsk knowing that a strong showing here could push him up the rankings in this year's NHL draft. Thus he wasn't going to be outshone.
The Prince Albert Raiders centre created Germany's 2-2 goal, exchanging passes with Thomas Oppenheimer before finding Kai Hospelt for a close-range finish.
Then he got a goal of his own - his first in the tournament - after Torsten Ankert won the puck on the blue line and fed Draisaitl in centre ice. The powerful forward did the rest himself, leaving Jeff Petry all tied up before making it 3-3 going into the second intermission.
Draisaitl, who finished his first senior tournament of any kind with a flurry of points to take him to 1+3 for the competition, was happy with his contribution.
"I think I've done OK for my first international men's tournament," he said. "I think it was pretty good. It's a new thing for me, something I've had to adapt to. It's a new world and I think I've done a pretty good job with it."
The other goals also owed much to individual flair: Alexander Weiss stripped Kevin Hayes of the puck on his own blue line before racing in for an unassisted score on Thomas to tie it up at 1-1. That sprawling finish was impressive, but better was to come at the other end when Drew Shore's willingness to lead short-handed surges paid off. He pulled a dazzling piece of stick-handling on Constantin Braun before applying a close-range finish for America's 2-1 goal.
Modestly, Shore shared the acclaim with Jeff Petry, who started the move. "It was a good pass," he said. "Here on the bigger ice surface there is a lot of time to make a move so I as able to work it low and get it past the goaltender's five hole."
It was a welcome improvement on a sluggish first period which generated just one talking point - again with Draisaitl involved. His shot was deflected into the net off Yannic Seidenberg's skate, but the cheeky back-heel was more suited to the soccer field than a hockey rink and the score was chalked off for a kicking motion.
In tonight's game Belarus needs a regulation time win over unbeaten Russia to claim second place in the group ahead of the USA, but America's Seth Jones is unconcerned about how the knock-out stage shapes up.
"We are here to win a gold medal," he said. "That's the bottom line and whether we do it is up to how we play. We're not worried about any other teams."