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U.S. beats Canada in semis of U18 WC

by Mike G. Morreale
The rivalry between the United States and Canada was renewed on Saturday in the Men's Under-18 World Championship at Crimmitschau Arena in Germany.

Boy, was it ever!

In the first meeting between the North American combatants on an international stage since Canada rubbed out the Americans in the semifinal round of the World Junior Championship in Buffalo four months ago, the U.S. made amends in dramatic fashion.

After watching a seemingly insurmountable three-goal lead disintegrate right before their eyes over the final 11 minutes of the third period, the U.S. received the inspirational boost they so desperately needed from one of their team leaders.

After U.S. goalie John Gibson stopped Canada's Ryan Murray at one end, U.S. National Team Development
Tyler Biggs Team USA NTDP
Program captain Tyler Biggs connected 4:22 into overtime at the other to give the Americans a 5-4 victory. Biggs, who dropped 17 rungs to No. 22 on NHL Central Scouting's final listing of North American skaters, might have just boosted his stock, too. Learn more about Biggs right here.

Team USA will look to capture its third straight gold medal after garnering back-to-back world titles in 2009 and 2010.

"We are fortunate to have held on for the win against such a good Canadian team," said U.S. coach Ron Rolston. "The puck bounced our way in overtime and now we have to prepare for a talented Sweden team."

After spotting Canada a 1-0 lead 4:37 into the first on the first of two goals by Brett Ritchie, the U.S. stormed back with four unanswered goals. J.T. Miller evened the score at 11:14 before assisting on Reid Boucher's first of two tallies 16:10 into the second. The U.S. then received goals by unheralded Zach Larraza at 6:43 and Boucher 33 seconds later in the third to open a 4-1 advantage. Boucher was named Player of the Game.

Despite the deficit, the Canadians didn't quit. Ritchie connected at the 9:15 mark and 2012 draft-eligible defenseman Ryan Murray then scored a power-play goal with Canadian goal Malcolm Subban pulled for a 6-on-4 advantage. Canada would then square the contest, 4-4, with 51 seconds showing and their goalie still pulled when Mark Scheifele converted feeds from Murray and Nick Cousins.  

For the second straight year, the Americans will face Sweden, a 3-1 victor over Russia in the other semifinal, in Sunday's gold-medal match at Crimmitschau Arena at 12:30 p.m. ET. Canada will face Russia in the bronze medal contest at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Sweden earned its one-way ticket to the gold-medal contest behind some fine display of goaltending by Niklas Lundstrom, the No. 8-rated European keeper according to Central Scouting. Lundstrom finished the contest with 28 saves, including 11 in the second period.

Russia's Sergei Smurov opened the scoring 3:07 into the game and that lead stood up, due in large part to the goaltending of Andrei Vasilevski (44 saves). Jeremy Boyce Rotevall squared the contest 11:02 into the second before Gustav Bjorklund connected for a pair of third-period goals, including the clincher 5:23 into the period. He'd hit an empty net with just 25 seconds left in the game. In five tournament games, Bjorklund has produced 4 goals, 6 points and a plus-8 rating for the Swedes.

U.S. forward Rocco Grimaldi continues to climb the leaderboard in all-time points at the IIHF World Men's U18 Championship for Team USA, with 17 points (4-13) in 11 games to rank third. He also played for the gold medal-winning 2010 U.S. Men's National Under-18 Team at last year's tournament in Belarus.

The Americans have captured a record seven consecutive medals at the U18 Championship, including back-to-back gold medals in 2005-06 and 2009-10, two silver medals (2004, 2007) and one bronze (2008). Team USA also captured the gold medal in 2002.

Here's a quick snapshot of each of the teams competing in the medal round on Sunday and those draft-eligible players to watch.

UNITED STATES: The top four players from the U.S. National Team Development Program who are listed on NHL Central Scouting's list of the best North American skaters are each making their presence felt in Germany. Biggs has notched 2 goals, 3 points and 45 penalty minutes. Biggs is No. 22 on Central Scouting's list. J.T. Miller, rated No. 23, has 4 goals, 11 points and a plus-6 rating. Miller has recorded points in every game and owns four multi-point efforts. Connor Murphy, rated 25th, has done a fine job along the blue line with a goal and a plus-7 rating; Grimaldi, No. 32, has 2 goals, 7 points and a plus-4 rating; Reid Boucher, No. 113, had produced 7 goals, 9 points, a plus-8 rating and team-leading 29 shots; and No. 70 Zac Larraza, has 1 goal, 5 points and plus-4 rating.

The top goalie eligible for the June Draft, USNTDP's John Gibson, has been solid between the pipes. Gibson, rated No. 1 among North American goalies, is a perfect 5-0-0 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

Sweden's Mika Zibanejad

SWEDEN: Top draft eligible prospect Mika Zibanejad (Djurgarden), who NHL Central Scouting has rated No. 2 among European skaters, has 4 goals, 8 points and a plus-9 rating for the Swedes. Additionally, another 2011 prospect along the forward line having a marvelous showing is 6-foot-1 1/2, 194-pound Victor Rask (Leksand), ranked 12th, has 2 goals and 5 points in five games. Defenseman Jonas Brodin (Farjestad), rated third, has one assist and a plus-4 rating.

RUSSIA: Nikita Kucherov (CSKA 2), rated No. 17 among Euro prospects but considered the best Russian winger available in the 2011 Draft, has led his country with 9 goals, 18 points and a plus-9 rating in 6 games in the tournament. The other Nikita on the U18 roster, Nikita Nesterov (Chelyabinsk 2), ranked 32nd on the Euro list, has also had a good tournament with 2 goals, 4 points, plus-9 rating and a whopping 27 penalty minutes.

CANADA: The Canadians have received a nice contribution from Mark Scheifele, who is the No. 16-rated North American on Central Scouting's chart. Scheifele, who plays for the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League, has 6 goals, 7 points and a plus-2 rating. Additionally, defenseman Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers has 3 goals, 9 points and a plus-2 rating while generating 39 shots on net. Murphy, whose draft value has skyrocketed in the second half of the season, is rated ninth. Mark McNeill of Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League has chipped in with 6 assists -- he's rated 14th on Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters.  

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