The United States Under-18 Select Team received goals from four players and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic came up big when his team needed him most to secure a 4-2 victory against Russia on Tuesday in preliminary-round action at the 2013 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka in Piestany, Slovakia.
Forwards Joey Dudek and Nick Schmaltz each had a goal and two assists, and defenceman Jack Dougherty a goal and one assist for the Americans, who have four points (one win, one overtime loss). Russia has three points after splitting its first two games in Group B of the eight-team tournament.
Nedeljkovic, considered a top prospect at his position for the 2014 NHL Draft, made 32 saves to rebound from a 3-2 overtime loss to Finland on Monday. The 5-foot-11.5, 186-pound left-hander, who plays for the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers, was named the most valuable player for the United States.
"It was a big game," Nedeljkovic told the tournament website. "Any time you play the Russians it's a really big game. We're very happy right now. We're controlling our own destiny and we've got another big game [Wednesday against Slovakia]."
The United States blew a 2-0 lead against the Russians before scoring twice in a span of 2:57 in the third period. An interference penalty by Russia's Nikita Lyamkin at 5:12 of the third gave the U.S. just the motivation it needed at a crucial point in the game.
"We knew we weren't going to keep them off the board," U.S. coach Bob Corkum said. "They are a very skilled team. They have high-end speed and their power play is very good. They got the momentum from the power play and carried it into 5-on-5 and put us back on our heels a little bit."
Dougherty, who plays at St. Thomas Academy (Minn.), snapped the tie with a power-play goal at 6:19.
"That whole play was a team effort," Dougherty said when asked about his goal. "We made some nice passes and [Paul] Bittner set up a nice screen in front. It was a seeing-eye goal. I didn't even know I scored. I thought [Monday] we played a great game; it was a heart-breaking loss and we had a lot of shots. [On Tuesday] our coaches didn't tell us to change anything because we worked so hard and I think it showed today."
Jake Wahlin of White Bear Lake High School (Minn.) added an insurance goal at 9:16. Wahlin's goal was made possible when Kyle Connor of the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League forced a turnover and fed Joseph Snively, who made the initial move to the net.
Nedeljkovic made the lead stand up with several key saves in the final 10 minutes.
"He was spectacular," Corkum said of his goalie. "He was confident back there, his rebounds were good. He didn't bobble many pucks and he found the pucks through screens. He was definitely the first star for us today, no question about it."
The U.S. opened a 2-0 lead when it struck for a pair of power-play goals in a span of 56 seconds midway through the first period. Schmaltz fired a low liner past Russian goalie Sergey Korobov at 11:45 before Dudek, who assisted on the earlier goal, connected at 12:41 to give the Americans a two-goal edge.
Both Schmaltz of the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers and Dudek, who plays for Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, have been identified on NHL Central Scouting's 2013-14 Futures List as players who possess first-, second- or third-round potential at the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia.
Russia got within 2-1 when defenceman Alexei Sleptsov ripped a one-timer from the point past Nedeljkovic 11:44 into the second period, then tied it 38 seconds into the third when forward Radel Frazlejev, who was named the team's MVP against the Americans, scored a power-play goal.
The Americans resume action on Wednesday against host Slovakia at 9:30 AM MST on the final day of preliminary-round action. Russia battles Finland at 6 AM MST.
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer