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Werenski scores OT winner for U.S. against Finland

by Mike G. Morreale / Columbus Blue Jackets

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Defenseman Zachary Werenski, the No. 8 pick of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Blue Jackets, was only following orders, but it paid off in a big way at United States National Junior Evaluation Camp on Wednesday.

Werenski scored the game-winning goal with 37 seconds remaining in overtime to give the United States a 5-4 victory against Finland in an exhibition game at Lake Placid Olympic Center's 1980 Herb Brooks Arena.

"Our coach talked about being a late guy into the play while 4-on-4, and that's what I did," Werenski said. "I had an opportunity to join and I did, and Brock [Boeser] made a great play off the wall, slid it into me, and I knew I had to get a shot off in overtime because there wasn't much time left. I hit the net, and fortunately it went in.

"That's the main focus at this camp, winning. It's exciting because even though it's not the real tournament, we're wearing the USA sweater and you can make a statement."

The evaluation camp will help determine the U.S. roster for the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, to be held Dec. 26, 2015, through Jan. 5, 2016.

U.S. coach Ron Wilson was pleased with Werenski's decision on the winner.

"In the overtime, the guys did what we asked them to do and we scored the goal," Wilson said. "Zach Werenski jumped in and got a quick pass from Boeser and snapped the puck off the post; it was nice. Nothing is going to be easy when you haven't coached in four years; it was a long time since my last win."

Werenski confirmed for that he will return to the University of Michigan for his sophomore year. There was speculation that the 6-foot-2, 221-pound left-handed shot would play for London of the Ontario Hockey League in 2015-16. London selected Werenski in the second round (No. 24) of the 2013 OHL draft.

"The coaching staff kind of talked about dealing with adversity and battling back, and that's what we did against Finland; it was good to see," Werenski said.

The United States rallied from a 4-2 deficit.

Werenski, the youngest player in NCAA Division 1 hockey last season, had nine goals and 25 points in 35 games for the Wolverines. He represented the U.S. at the 2015 WJC in Montreal and Toronto.

The U.S. also received a solid effort from goaltender Brandon Halversen (New York Rangers). Halverson made 32 saves, including several big stops in the second period with the Finns on the power play.

Wilson said forwards Auston Matthews, the projected No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, and Matthew Tkachuk (2016 draft eligible) also stood out to him. Matthews didn't have a point but had plenty of opportunities while freeing up space for linemates Paul Bittner (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Jeremy Bracco (Toronto Maple Leafs). Tkachuk scored his fourth goal of the camp in the second.

Right wing Jesse Puljujarvi, who is widely considered to be the top European prospect eligible for the 2016 draft, had a goal and two points for Finland. Puljujarvi made an impressive power move to the net on his goal in the first period that gave Finland a 2-1 lead.

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