EDMONTON - If the U.S. National Junior Team seeks to remain in contention for a gold medal at the 2012 World Junior Championship, a victory over the feisty Czech Republic is in order on Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET at Rexall Place.
That being the case, U.S. coach Dean Blais will have Jack Campbell back between the pipes with so much at stake. If the U.S. falls to the Czech Republic in regulation, and should Finland defeat Denmark in regulation on Friday night, the Americans would be destined for the relegation round regardless of the outcome of its New Year's Eve clash against rival Canada.
If the United States defeats the Czech Republic, however, it would not only remain in medal contention, but in a position to capture first place in Group B so long as the Czech Republic avoids a regulation loss to Finland and Team USA defeats Canada.
Campbell is certainly no stranger to the big international stage, particularly under the tutelage of Blais.
He's helped the Americans to a gold medal (2010) with Blais at the helm, as well as a bronze (2011) at the tournament. He is 6-2-1-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L) in 10 WJC appearances with a 2.44 goals-against average, .904 save percentage and one shutout. He was named the tournament's top goalie last year when he finished 4-1-0-1 with a 1.70 GAA and .941 save percentage.
After sitting out of a WJC game for the first time since that gold medal-winning victory in Saskatoon in 2010 when John Gibson was given the nod in a 4-1 loss against Finland on Wednesday, Campbell is ready to roll.
"The difference between our victory over Denmark [on Monday] and loss to Finland was that we scored a lot of goals in that first one because we went to the net and that's what we needed to do against Finland," Campbell said. "Their goalie played really well, but the rebounds were there. We just had to crash the net a little bit harder and we would have gotten a few more.
"So we learn from that last game. You can't always say you have to get better every single game in this tournament. It's obviously good to get better every game, but it's great to learn what we did wrong so the next game we'll be more prepared and ready to go."
That's what Campbell and company are hoping for against the Czechs. It will be the 18th meeting between the countries at the WJC, with the U.S. holding an 8-1-1-6-1 mark. Team USA has won the last three meetings, including the most recent 3-2 overtime decision on Jan. 4, 2009. The U.S. placed fifth that year.
Campbell was asked if there are any similarities between this year's team and the one that won bronze last year or gold in 2010 under Blais.
"This team is more like the team coach Blais built in 2010 in Saskatoon," Campbell said. "We have great speed up front, and big, puck-moving defensemen. It's a great team to play for. We're going to try to make the most of these next couple of games and see where that takes us."
Blais expects his team to push the pace and be productive between the dots in the offensive end against the Czechs.
"I thought the pace was good [at practice on Thursday] but we still need guys going to the net with the second and third efforts," Blais said. "We need that determination. With how good the goaltending is at this tournament, we need the tip-in and rebound goals."
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