Group effort helps U.S. defeat Sweden, win WJC gold
Mike G. Morreale
It seemed appropriate every player on the United States National Junior Team roster had an opportunity to touch the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship trophy at center ice in the wake of a 3-1 victory against Sweden in the gold-medal game Saturday in Ufa, Russia.
After all, each player made a contribution in helping the United States close out the event in dominant fashion with a four-victory kick that began with a preliminary-round win against Slovakia that was necessary just to gain entrance to the medal round.
It continued against the Czech Republic, Canada and finally Sweden. The Americans outscored the opposition, 24-5, during their final four matches.
Rocco Grimaldi, who was demoted from the top line to fourth-line duty and never saw the ice against Slovakia, scored a pair of second-period goals, and goalie John Gibson made 26 saves to lead the Americans. Grimaldi, who scored his only two goals of the tournament in the gold-medal contest, was named the player of the game for the Americans. It was certainly a golden moment for Grimaldi, who was a late cut from the 2011 WJC team and was unable to participate in last year's tournament due to injury.
"The players just bought into their team game plan, and hats go off to this leadership group," U.S. coach Phil Housley told NHL.com. "Seth Jones, Cole Bardreau, J.T. Miller, Jacob Trouba and captain Jake McCabe -- they did a tremendous job. You need leadership in these types of tournaments, and they provided it for us."
In the end, all 22 players on the U.S. roster had at least one point, including goalie Gibson (two assists), and 15 players scored at least one goal.
"We knew coming in that we had great depth along the forward lines, and it just turned out that 22 guys would help bring it home," Jones said.
It was especially sweet for WJC returnees Miller, Gibson and Trouba, who were part of last year's team that finished a disappointing seventh in Calgary.
The Swedes pulled goalie Niklas Lundstrom with 1:35 remaining in the third to gain the extra attacker, but the United States clogged the middle of the ice and kept Sweden to the perimeter before Vince Trocheck took an outlet pass from Miller and scored into an empty net with 16.7 seconds remaining.
"When I picked it off and made the pass to [Trocheck], I completely started blacking out and my heart was pounding through my chest," Miller told NHL.com. "At that moment, I don't think I've ever been happier my whole life."
Gibson's best save of the game might have been five minutes into the third and his team holding a 2-1 lead when 2013 draft-eligible forward Viktor Arvidsson skated hard into the offensive zone down right wing before curling the cage and attempting a wraparound that the Anaheim Ducks prospect stopped with his right pad.
"It was a good play on his part," Gibson said. "I was just trying to get over there and luckily enough it got my pad."
American defenseman Connor Murphy then helped out his goalie with less than six minutes left when he blocked an attempt off the stick of Swedish scoring leader Sebastian Collberg from the left circle. The puck appeared ticketed for the far corner.
The victory marks the third gold medal for the United States at the WJC, following triumphs in 2004 and 2010.
"Guys fought hard all game … blocking shots and doing whatever it took to win. We played to our strengths. When you get right down to it, we did what we had to do to win." -- U.S. captain Jake McCabe
McCabe, the American captain, was at a loss for words as the team celebrated on the ice long after the final buzzer.
"I like what I'm seeing and [the gold medal] feels pretty good on me," McCabe told NHL Network. "It feels pretty heavy, but I'll deal with it."
Sweden, which earned its 10th silver medal, suffered its first loss in six games at this year's tournament. It won Group A and received a bye into the semifinals, where it defeated host Russia in a shootout.
"Right now, it feels terrible," Swedish captain Filip Forsberg told the IIHF website. "Hopefully it might feel better in a couple of weeks."
Sweden coach Roger Ronnberg tipped his cap to the Americans.
"The United States was the better team," he told the media. "They deserved to win and they are the true champions."
Gibson was named the tournament's best goaltender after posting a 5-2 record with a 1.36 goals-against average and .955 save percentage. His save percentage established a new American record at the tournament. Al Montoya held the previous mark for save percentage (.940), set at the 2004 tournament. Gibson's goals-against average ranks third all-time, behind the 1.33 GAA set in 2001 by Rick DiPietro. and equaled by Montoya.
"John Gibson is unbelievable," Alex Galchenyuk told NHL.com. "He's the best goalie I've ever played for. It would be tough to play against him."
Trouba, who finished with four goals and nine points in seven games for the United States, was named the tournament's top defenseman. Gibson, Trouba and John Gaudreau, who led the Americans with seven goals, were named the top three players for Team USA at the tournament.
The United States also received great work from its penalty killers all tournament. Against the Swedes, the Americans yielded one goal on the man advantage in three power-play opportunities to close out the event with the highest penalty-killing percentage (.893), allowing three power-play goals in 28 times short.
"Our penalty kill was outstanding," McCabe said. "That has a lot to do with our coaching strategy. We stuck to it. Guys were sacrificing their bodies to block shots, and Gibby did one heck of a job. He was goalie of the tournament. He's one special guy and we're lucky enough to have him on our team."
The United States didn't allow a power-play goal against Germany or the Czech Republic, and twice held Canada scoreless with the man advantage. It allowed single power-play markers to Russia, Slovakia and Sweden.
Grimaldi's second of the game came off a tip in the slot. Trouba fired a rocket from the right point that deflected off Grimaldi past Lundstrom 10:27 into the second to give the United States its first lead, 2-1.
The Americans pulled into a 1-1 tie 7:42 into the second when Grimaldi connected on a great individual effort. The Florida Panthers prospect raced to a loose puck behind Sweden's net before skating out beyond the left post and firing a shot that skittered over Lundstrom's right pad before dropping over the line.
The Swedes came close to squaring the contest while shorthanded when Anaheim Ducks prospect William Karlsson broke in on Gibson off a turnover, but was denied with less than five minutes left in the second.
Swedish goalie and St. Louis Blues prospect Lundstrom also had a strong game, finishing with 30 saves.
Sweden opened a 1-0 edge 1:09 into the second on Filip Sandberg's second goal of the tournament. The Swedes were on their second power play of the game when Trouba attempted to swat the puck out of the zone from the right corner. But the puck was stolen and Sandberg recovered between the circles in prime scoring position. His quick wrist shot beat Gibson on his glove side just under the crossbar.
"We just stuck to the game plan [after the Sweden goal]," McCabe said. "Guys fought hard all game … blocking shots and doing whatever it took to win. We played to our strengths. When you get right down to it, we did what we had to do to win."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale