-- It didn't happen until the last minute of their last game, but the U.S. finally got a fortunate bounce.
James van Riemsdyk
took a breakout pass from Colin Wilson
, caught a break when defenseman Michal Jordan
fell and broke in alone to score the winning goal at 2:49 of overtime to give the U.S. a 3-2 victory against the Czech Republic and a fifth-place finish at the 2009 World Junior Championship.
While it was a disappointing tournament overall, van Riemsdyk's video game-style goal made it a positive finish. Van Riemsdyk shot the puck between his legs and past Tomas Vosvrda for the winning margin.
"Wilson made a great play to chip it up to me," said van Riemsdyk. "I wasn't thinking about it, I just was looking at the net, saw that was open and it just kind of came natural from there."
"It was a great goal he scored," said Wilson. "There aren't too many guys that have the confidence to go out there and throw the puck between their legs for a shot. It was our only bounce of the tournament that went our way."
It almost looked like the bounce that would never happen. Eric Tangradi
scored to give the U.S. the lead 8:36 into the game, but they couldn't add to it, despite getting five straight power plays.
The Czech Republic tied the game when Zdenek Okal pushed a puck under Josh Unice
2:23 into the third to tie it. It was Unice's first action of the tournament after serving as back-up to Thomas McCollum
for the first five games.
A chippy game devolved into a near-melee midway through the third when van Riemsdyk was shoved to the ice by a Czech player. Teammate Teddy Ruth jumped in and ended up fighting Czech captain David Stitch. After fighting Ruth, Stitch wrestled with the referee and threw his helmet in disgust leaving the ice. The end result was Stitch receiving a World Junior Championship-record 50 minutes in penalties -- a roughing major (five minutes), a game misconduct (20) and a match penalty (25).
"Both teams were competitive," said U.S. coach Ron Rolston. "A lot of big hits, some scraps. It showed how important that game was. That fight sparked both teams. It certainly helped us to be on the power play and score … and get some extra life."
Helping give the team life was the U.S. leadership group of captain Jonathan Blum and alternate captains Wilson and Kevin Shattenkirk
"You have to rely on the character in the room and the guys showed that character tonight," Rolston said. "We wanted to impress upon them that it's important for our country. We needed competitors and they showed up tonight."
"It was a little disappointing we had to play in this game, but we have a lot of character guys on this team," said Blum. "Everyone likes each other. Guys wanted to go to battle today even if it was the fifth/sixth-place game. We cared about each other in that room and we wanted to put an honest effort into the game."
Blum said his motivation came from wanting to play well for his teammates as well as the USA Hockey staff.
"We owed that game to the staff," he said. "The staff worked really hard for us. We wanted to come today and put an honest effort in."
The Czechs also were gunning for a positive end to their tournament. After the fight was cleared and Jordan Schroeder
was whistled for charging, Ondrej Roman
scored a four-on-four goal to put the Czechs ahead, 2-1.
Schroeder's penalty ended and the U.S. capitalized on what was left of the five-minute penalty to Stitch. Cade Fairchild
's shot from just above the circles through traffic got past Vosvrda with 6:58 remaining.
The game ended with van Riemsdyk's highlight-reel goal, and sent the U.S. contingent home happy.
As Wilson said, "Fifth is better than sixth."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com.