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Nelson's big night vaults USA to victory

by IIHF.com Staff / Winnipeg Jets

Author: Andy Potts



Team USA pressed its case to top Group B with a Brock Nelson-inspired 3-1 victory over Slovenia.

Nelson scored two and claimed an assist to take his personal tally to 6+3=9 for the competition, making the New York Islander his team's most productive player in Ostrava and tying him for the top goalscorer of the championship.

Slovenia, meanwhile, saw its hopes of escaping relegation come to an end with this defeat and is now destined to return to the Division I Group A.

Two markers in the first period saw Nelson set his team on course for victory. His first dampened the fervour a Slovenia’s vocal supporters, putting the Americans one up in the fifth minute. Trevor Lewis saw his shot from the blue line pushed past the post by Robert Kristan but Mike Reilly retrieved the puck from behind the net and found Nelson on the doorstep to open the scoring.

The second, on the second USA power play of the afternoon, also came from a shot from the blue line. This time Justin Faulk’s effort got tangled up between goalie Kristan and the marauding Lewis, presenting Nelson with another close-range finish.

"Our line has been working well for quite a few games now," said Nelson. "I don't know what the secret is - it would be nice if we did - but I think we've played well from the get-go to create chances and capitalize on them. When you get a few early goals you build that chemistry."

Slovenia knew that it had to get something from this game to step off the elevator it has been stuck on in recent years. Thus inspired it started the second period determined to force its way back into contention. Ziga Pance was the architect of some nervous moments for US goalie Connor Hellebuyck. First he set up Rok Ticar for a good look at goal that drew a top-class blocker save from the impressive 21-year-old. Moments later he carved out a chance for himself but again Hellebuyck had his measure.

The goalie was finally beaten in the 27th minute as Slovenia grabbed the lifeline their endeavours in the middle stanza deserved. Ales Music was the scoring, collecting a lovely one-time pass from Ken Ograjensek that bisected the American defence and sent him clear to put it upstairs and get his team back in the game.

"We were on fire after we scored and we had a lot of shots and chances, but their goalie and defence was good," said forward Ziga Jeglic.

The underdog continued to bare its teeth through the second period, outshooting the USA 8-3 and forcing two power plays that went unconverted. The closest it came to an equalizer was in the 39th minute when Anze Kopitar led the offence and teed up Sabahudin Kovacevic for a shot from deep that had Hellebuyck watchful as Jan Urbas sought to profit from the rebound.

But hopes of a courageous fightback – in the game and in the group – were quashed early in the third. Seth Jones thumped in a shot, the puck bobbled around in front of the net and Jack Eichel claimed the final touch to make it 3-1. Nelson picked up an assist on the play but may feel a little unfortunate not to be celebrating a hat-trick as his shot deflected off Eichel's stick on its way into an empty net.

"We gave him a bit of a hard time about it, but I think Jack was trying to get out of the way," Lewis smiled after the game. "All through the game we did a good job of getting to the net. That's where all the goals came from. Brock's a big strong guy and he was really good around the net tonight."

Slovenia pulled Kristan with two minutes to play in the hope of conjuring an unlikely recovery that might give it a fighting chance of getting ahead of Denmark in its final game, but the USA put up a solid defence to close out the game.

"It's very disappointing," said Slovenia's best known player Kopitar. "I think this group of players deserves better but in reality we didn't play good enough hockey to stay in the elite division and that's what happened."

The win moves the Americans to 15 points, three ahead of Finland and Russia. The latter plays Slovakia in the evening game, but even with a victory would still trail the US due to the team's head-to-head record.

Slovenia remains pointless and is now confirmed as the first team to suffer relegation this year. Not even victory over Denmark in its final game can overhaul a four-point gap between the nations.

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