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U.S. coach Housley praises character of team

by Mike G. Morreale

United States National Junior Team coach Phil Housley admitted he didn't have to say much in his pregame speech to his players prior to the puck drop against Sweden in Saturday's gold medal match of the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.

His team knew what was at stake and realized what needed to be done in order to deliver the country's third WJC title in 10 years.

"There wasn't a lot of buildup before the game … we knew what it was all about," U.S. forward Alex Galchenyuk told "It's the biggest game of your career so far. It's an unbelievable feeling."

The Americans carried that emotion into their game against Sweden, delivering the knockout blow in the second period when Rocco Grimaldi struck for his only two goals of the tournament on the way to a 3-1 win. Vince Trocheck would seal the deal with 16.7 seconds left on an empty-net goal.

"I told the team before the game to focus on our commitment to defense and use our speed and strength to aggressively pursue the puck," Housley told "We wanted to win the 1-on-1 battles, and it was key that we narrow our focus and not look at the big picture. We just needed to win our shifts and each period."

John Gibson, who was named the top goalie at the WJC, made it stand behind another heroic performance with 26 saves. Jacob Trouba was named the tournament's top defenseman after notching four goals and nine points in seven games.

The effort Grimaldi exhibited in the final game of the tournament was equally gratifying for the 5-foot-6, 165-pound forward. In 2011, Grimaldi was a late cut from the WJC team, and he was unable to participate in last year's tournament due to injury.

In the fourth game of this year's tournament against Slovakia, Grimaldi was benched and ultimately demoted from the top line to fourth-line duty.

"He was benched, but played unbelievable the last three games of the tournament," Housley said. "He took [the benching] the right way and proved how good of a player he was. I also have to thank John Gibson, though, for outstanding goaltending throughout the whole tournament."

Gibson, a second-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2011, allowed nine goals on 202 shots in seven games. His .955 save percentage established a new American record at the tournament.

When informed that all 22 players on his roster had at least one point, including goalie Gibson (two assists), and 15 registered at least one goal, Housley quickly countered.

"We had balance throughout our lineup, but it was 23 players and not 22 that played a big part of this team," Housley said. "[Emergency goalie] Garret Sparks might not have seen any action, but he was a great teammate and I really respect that in a player. He came to the rink every day and was a part of this team. It really showed a lot about our character as a whole."

The Americans outscored the opposition, 24-5, during their final four matches and left no doubt which country was tops among the world's best junior-aged players this year.

"The United States was the better team," Swedish coach Roger Ronnberg told the IIHF website. "They deserved to win and they are the true champions."

It certainly wasn't as easy as it might have looked for the Americans down the stretch.

"It's not easy to win a championship and I don't know if they really understand that right now, but in the future they will," Housley said. "These opportunities don't come around every year, playing for a gold medal and representing your country. It was a great effort all around."

"The way they played the whole tournament. They really inspired the coaching staff, management, training staff and hopefully our nation back home. The support was great. Getting those notes from fans and people watching the games, it was amazing."
-- U.S. Junior Team coach Phil Housley

Housley also was quick to thank assistant coaches Mark Osiecki, Grant Potulny, David Lassonde and Dan Muse.

"The assistants made my job look easy, just like our team did," Housley said. "Dave Lassonde was our goalie coach … we call him the 'Goalie Nation.' Dan Muse works at Yale and was great with the video. They are so knowledgeable about the game. I can't say enough about Grant Potulny and Mark Osiecki. The work they did with our power play and penalty kill … they were dialed in."

The Americans finished tops on the penalty kill at the tournament with an 89.3 efficiency, allowing three power play goals in 28 times short. The power play finished fourth in the 10-team tournament with a 29.2 percent efficiency.

"Really, the [assistant coaches] deserve the credit because they made me look good and I can't say enough about what they did and brought to the team," Housley said.

Housley said he'll never forget standing on the blueline and singing the National Anthem with the entire staff following the medal presentation at Ufa Arena.

"When Trocheck got the puck down the middle to the empty net and scored, I was so proud of them," Housley said. "The way they played the whole tournament. They really inspired the coaching staff, management, training staff and hopefully our nation back home. The support was great. Getting those notes from fans and people watching the games, it was amazing."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale

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