Nick Schmaltz scored twice and Blake Weyrick made 15 saves as the U.S. Under-18 Select Team beat Slovakia 5-2 Wednesday on the final day of preliminary-round action and advanced to the semifinals at the 2013 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka in Piestany, Slovakia.
The victory gave the United States seven points, good for first place in Group B and a berth in the semifinals on Friday against the Czech Republic, which finished second in Group A. Slovakia, which lost all three of its games and was outscored 12-4, will play in the seventh-place game earlier Friday.
In the other semifinal, five-time defending champion Canada plays Russia. The winners will meet for the championship on Saturday.
"The job's not done yet," U.S. coach Bob Corkum told the tournament website. "We're two wins away from our ultimate goal. This is another step in that direction. I thought our team played very well [against Slovakia], very composed, despite the great officiating."
The U.S. has finished among the top three 10 times since the tournament's inception in 1991, including a first-place finish in 2003. It has earned second place seven times and third twice, but was coming off a seventh-place finish last year.
The Americans opened a 4-0 lead in the first period on a pair of goals by Schmaltz of the Green Bay Gamblers in the United States Hockey League, and one each by Keegan Iverson (Portland Winterhawks, WHL) and Kyle Connor (Youngstown Phantoms, USHL). Slovakian starting goalie Maximillian Pajpach was replaced by Stanislav Skorvanek to open the second period.
Schmaltz, a potential first-, second-, or third-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, might be the player to watch in the USHL this season. The 5-foot-11, 158-pound center for Green Bay will attend the University of North Dakota next fall. He's the younger brother of Jordan Schmaltz, who was chosen in the first round (No. 25) by the St. Louis Blues in 2012.
Nick Schmaltz, who was named the player of the game for the United States on Wednesday, had 18 goals, 52 points and 18 power-play points in 64 games with the Gamblers in 2012-13.
The Slovaks pulled within 4-2 in a span of 15 seconds early in the second period on a penalty-shot goal by Adam Hascic and a blast from the right point by Christian Jaros. The Americans added an insurance goal when Kyle Connor scored off a drop pass from Joe Snively 6:47 into the second.
"We knew that we had the firepower to get any goals back that we needed," Corkum said. "The Slovaks played hard, they got a little momentum off the penalty shot and then the power play. We did a good job regrouping after that. The fifth goal was a big goal."
Hascic's goal was a result of U.S. defenseman Ryan Mantha being whistled for a five-minute major penalty for hooking Filip Kundrat 2:12 into the second. Kundrat had to leave the ice on a stretcher following the penalty.
The U.S. was forced to play the remainder of the game short one defenseman, but persevered.
"I thought we had the game under control," U.S. defenseman Brandon Carlo said. "After that I knew we weren't going to let them come back. We already let them get those two goals and that was enough so we shut them down after that."
Carlo was also asked about the team playing down a defensemen after the loss of Mantha.
"Everybody has to go through some adversity, and we will play with six D if we have to," he said.
The Slovaks had an opportunity to narrow the deficit late in the game when they got a two-man advantage for 45 seconds with forward Ryan Wagner (slashing) and defenseman Brandon Carlo (delay of game) serving minor penalties. The Americans did a superb defensive job and closed out the game to move on to the medal round. Weyrick, who was making his first start in the tournament, came up with seven saves in the final period.
In other action on Wednesday
Czech Republic 5, Sweden 2: David Pastrnak scored a pair of goals and added an assist to help lead his country into the semifinal round in Breclav, Czech Republic. The Czechs, who finished second in the Group A pool, will meet the United States on Friday.
In the other semifinal, Group A winner Canada, a 4-3 shootout winner against Switzerland, will meet Russia, which beat Finland 7-3.
Sweden trailed 3-0 after 40 minutes but pulled within 3-2 on third-period goals by Oskar Lindblom and William Altelius Nylander. But Pastrnak's second goal of the game gave the Czechs a 4-2 edge with 3:12 remaining in regulation, and Lukas Vopelka added an empty-net goal with 56 seconds left.
Pastrnak opened the scoring at 15:50 into the game when he converted a feed from Filip Pyrochta to give the host country a 1-0 lead. Jakub Zboril made it 2-0 at 59 seconds of the second on an assist by Pastrnak.
Milan Svarc scored with 17 seconds remaining in the period to give the Czechs a 3-0 lead, much to the delight of the hometown fans.