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U.S. U-18 team trounces Russia, wins gold

by Brian Fitzsimmons
The world's newest golden boys fulfilled their dream by redefining what home-ice advantage truly means.

Defenseman Cam Fowler scored an early first-period goal as the U.S. National Under-18 Team cruised to a 5-0 triumph against Russia, capturing the gold medal at the 2009 IIHF World Under-18 Championships in Fargo, N.D., on Sunday.

Matt Nieto, William Wrenn, Chris Brown and Ryan Bourque also tallied to help the Americans complete their thrilling run in becoming the first U.S. team to win the gold on home soil since the 1980 Olympic Games.

"I'm just happy for the players and the team," U.S. coach Ron Rolston said. "We had a group that was focused throughout the tournament. I'm happy for them to accomplish their goals and live their dreams."

The U.S. team earned its seventh medal at the tournament and sixth in a row. The team also won the title at the 2008 Men's Under-18 Four Nations Cup and 2009 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament this season.

A record-breaking crowd of 4,923 at the Urban Plains Center – consisting of many people suffering from the rising flood threats along the Red River – witnessed the Americans avenge Tuesday's 6-5 loss to Russia, their only loss of the tournament and international play this year.

"(Revenge) was our goal going in," U.S. forward Jeremy Morin said. "We knew it was going to be tough to beat us twice in one tournament. It obviously gave us motivation to get even."

Fowler opened the scoring at 2:09 of the first period to give the United States an early boost against Russian goaltender Igor Bobkov, who posted a 51-save shutout against Finland in the semifinals.

"It's something I can't describe," Fowler said. "We've been going through a lot for two years and to end it with a gold medal is something I'll remember for the rest of my life.

"It was big because going in, our emotions were high and we were just trying to play normal. I just threw the puck on net and got a good screen. We used it as an energy builder and we never looked back."

Nieto doubled the advantage just seven minutes later, and Wrenn took a pass from Drew Shore before firing a slap shot past Bobkov for a power-play goal at 1:55 of the following period.

"Everyone's worked for this for two years now and it hasn't kicked in," Wrenn said. "I just can't believe it. We never really stopped playing; we made smart decisions. It was just everyone laying it all out on the line. We got the jitters out of the way and we rolled after that."

Brown extended the lead to 4-0 at 2:29 of the third and Bourque finished off the victory 70 seconds later in support of Jack Campbell, who notched his second shutout of the tournament.

"It's the most unbelievable thing that's ever happened to me," Brown said. "We played the game of our lives and we've been looking forward to this for the last two years. We had one dream and we were going to do whatever it takes."

A relentless offensive scheme proved to be a potent formula for the U.S. team, as it outscored opponents 42-12 in seven games. However, the squad benefited greatly from the goaltending duo of Adam Murray and Campbell, who led the tournament with a 0.75 goals-against average and .967 save percentage.

"We knew we were going to have to play better defensively," Rolston said. "(The Russians) have an outstanding team and excellent forwards in terms of speed and skills. Our goaltending and defense was exceptional.

"Adam started the first few games and did outstanding by placing us in the position we were in. Then Jack closed the door and played exceptionally well."

Campbell was named to the tournament all-star team, joining forward Jerry D'Amigo, the team's leading scorer with 13 points.

For the United States, this rout was a complete turnaround from the last meeting with Russia.

The U.S. team constantly pressured the opposition in that contest, holding a 55-26 edge in shots on goal– including a 25-7 advantage in the third period. Yet, it fizzled late and was unable to lock up the top spot in Group B, which was eventually held by Finland.

Nevertheless, the setback never swayed the team's poise as it went on to skate past the Czech Republic before edging Canada 2-1 on Friday in the semifinals.

"It was huge," Brown said. "We've been battling (Russia) for two years and we knew exactly what we needed to do. We just needed that confidence. We knew we were the best team. We just needed to prove it."

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