BUFFALO, N.Y. -- U.S. National Junior Team forward Mitch Callahan is proving to be quite the catch for coach Keith Allain at the 2011 World Junior Championship.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder certainly proved that point on Friday when he connected for his first goal of the tournament 13:53 into the second period to give the U.S. a 2-1 victory against Switzerland in the final preliminary-round game in Group A at HSBC Arena. The victory enabled the U.S. to earn an automatic bye into the semifinals on Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Had they lost in regulation, the Americans would have played Canada in Sunday's quarterfinals. The Canadians started the day's action by losing 6-5 to Sweden in a shootout, forcing them to play the Swiss in the quarterfinals, with the winner playing the U.S. on Monday.
For Callahan, who is considered to be that in-your-face type of player who enjoys scrumming for the puck with the opposition, popping home a goal is certainly a bonus.
"Mitch has gotten better for us each game," Allain said. "He started the tournament as our 13th forward -- a guy who we'd use on the penalty-kill and inject energy when we thought we'd need a little bit of life. Due to the injuries we've sustained, he's gotten a regular shift.
"Even if Mitch hadn't scored for us, I thought his game was outstanding," Allain said. "He had great pursuit on the forecheck, he drove the net when we had line rushes, was responsible in our end. It's a huge plus for us when a guy picked in that role performs the way he did tonight."
Goalie Jack Campbell turned aside 25 shots to boost his record to 4-0. His best save came with less than four minutes remaining in the third when he blocked a shot off a semi-breakaway before neatly scooping up the rebound with his glove. He also benefitted from a shot off the goalpost.
"Jack's a clutch goalie … a big game goalie," forward Chris Kreider said. "He likes to compete and it's easy for us to play in front of him. He always gives us lot of confidence."
The U.S. took its first lead of the night 13:53 into the second when Jerry D'Amigo won a battle for a loose puck in the right-wing corner before feeding Callahan behind the Swiss net. Callahan tucked a wraparound that slithered past Swiss goalie Benjamin Conz to break a 1-1 tie. Conz appeared to get his right pad there in time, but it wasn't flush enough against the post.
"I was just doing my energy thing out there … my job," Callahan said. "D'Amigo cycled down low to me and I just decided to take it to the net and I think it went in off their goalie's skate and in. Conz is a good goalie, he stood on his head most of game. We just needed to get some shots on him and get traffic in front; get in those greasy areas and throw it in front to see what happens."
It was a rare mistake by Conz, who kept his team in the game with 40 saves, including 18 in the first period.
Callahan, who scored his first of the tournament, became the 12th player to notch a goal in four games for the U.S.
"I think for us to achieve the ultimate goal, we're going to have to do it with a solid team game," Allain said. "The way our lines are set up now -- not necessarily the power-play but 5-on-5 -- there's no first, second or third line. We need contributions from everyone and we're getting contributions from everyone and that's why we've earned the bye into the next round."
The U.S. fell behind for the first time in the tournament when Switzerland's Inti Pestoni scored 7:01 into the first -- his third goal in four games.
"I think it was good for our confidence; whether you're trailing by a goal or whatever the situation may be, or knowing we can grind it out in the third period when we have to," Campbell said. "It's always huge to get that day of rest, and some guys are banged up. We worked really hard to get these last four games, but now it's a fresh start, a new tournament and we have two more to go."
The U.S. responded 3:14 aftetr Pestoni's goal when Kreider connected for his second in as many games on the power play. The U.S. outshot the Swiss 19-10 in the opening 20 minutes.
The U.S. was without the services of injured forwards Jeremy Morin and Jason Zucker, leaving Allain one player short of four full lines. Still, the U.S. continued to press on and, when called upon, Campbell was there to make the critical save as he has in every game of this tournament.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale