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Matthews, U.S. end camp with win against Finland

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Center Auston Matthews had a goal and two assists to help the United States close out its National Junior Evaluation Camp with a 6-1 exhibition victory against Finland at Lake Placid Olympic Center's 1980 Herb Brooks Arena on Saturday.

Matthews, who is widely considered the frontrunner to be the top pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead 53 seconds into the game when he beat Finnish prospect Jesse Puljujarvi in the neutral zone before curling two defenders at the right hash and scoring off his backhand.

"That was fantastic and beautiful," U.S. coach Ron Wilson said. "He beat a couple of guys and held on and flipped it high over goalie's glove. It was a perfect start to the game.

"I thought [goaltender] Brandon Halverson kept is simple too. I'm not a big believer in over-handling the puck, and he had a few issues with that, but not too many and generally he did a good job."

Halverson (New York Rangers), who Wilson considered the best U.S. goalie at camp, made 16 saves against Finland.

The evaluation process will continue for the players even though they will rejoin their respective teams and prepare for 2015-16. Jim Johannson, general manager of the U.S. National Junior Team, said the camp was a success because it enabled the players to get an idea what's expected of them.

"I think there was a little bit more of a feel-out by the players with the coaches, and that happens all the time," Johannson said. "I think it was a new process with a coach having more of a pro background. The messaging built as the week went on and [on Saturday against Finland] you saw the most disciplined and best hockey. We leave on an encouraging note."

The U.S. got two goals by Anders Bjork (Boston Bruins) and one each by Matthew Tkachuk (2016 draft eligible), Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) and Jeremy Bracco (Toronto Maple Leafs).

United States National Junior Selection Camp will be held in December at Boston University. Johannson said there could be 15 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies invited to selection camp. The camp will include an exhibition match at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The team will leave for Helsinki, Finland, site of the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, on Dec. 19.

"I think the coaching staff definitely pushed us and we competed throughout the camp and competed well," said Matthews, who on Friday announced his decision to play with Zurich in the Swiss National League in 2015-16. "We're a really fast and skilled team. We have a lot of speed up front and some big boys on the back end."

Finland coach Jukka Jalonen said his team appeared tired against the United States following a 2-0 loss to Sweden on Friday.

"I thought we played well our first four games and I was happy about our performance, but we ran out of gas mentally and physically [against the United States]," Jalonen said. "The U.S. played very well; they outworked and outskated us."

Jalonen was asked which Finnish players stood out to him during the week.

"Among the forwards, I thought Sebastian Aho (Carolina Hurricanes) was good; Mikko Rantanen (Colorado Avalanche) was one of our best players," Jalonen said. "I felt (2016 draft eligible) Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi were pretty good too. Defensively, Niko Mikkola (St. Louis Blues) was quite good.

"Overall, I thought nobody played themselves off the team. We'll look forward to the next camp in Russia in a couple of weeks to scrimmage against Russia, the Czech Republic and Sweden."

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