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United States wins World Junior A Challenge

by Mike G. Morreale

Kyle Connor scored the decisive goal late in the second period and Cal Petersen made it stand behind 16 saves when the United States Junior Select Team scored a 4-1 victory against Russia on Sunday in the gold medal game of the 2013 World Junior A Challenge at the Mariners Centre in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

The championship triumph was the second straight for the U.S. and the fifth in the eight-year history of the tournament.

Connor, who plays for the Youngstown Phantoms of the United States Hockey League, snapped a 1-1 tie with just 14 seconds left in the second period.

"Our line just got the puck and I got a good pass and just buried it," Connor said. "Me, [Nick] Schmaltz and [Connor] Hurley got in on the forecheck and that was a key for us. I think looking forward and playing our game, getting pucks deep, was critical all tournament."

Karson Kuhlman (Dubuque, USHL), a "B"-rated prospect on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list from the USHL, Andrew Oglevie (Cedar Rapids, USHL) and C.J. Franklin (Sioux City, USHL) also scored for the Americans.

"We really stayed focused throughout the tournament and right on the task at hand," U.S. coach Derek Lalonde said. "The difference was our depth; an ability to run all four lines like we did was accumulative. We wore [Russia] down. We managed the third period well. I thought the Oglevie, [Shane] Eiserman and [Austin] Poganski line was really good and had a lot of energy. We wanted to get the puck behind their defense and wear them down."

Nick Schmaltz, an "A"-rated prospect from the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers, earned an assist on Connor's game-winner, giving him a record-setting 12 points (four goals, eight assists) for the tournament. The former record of 11 points was shared by Kyle Turris in 2006 and Mike Connolly in 2007. Schmaltz also tied the record for assists, equaling the mark set by U.S. defenseman Ian Brady in 2012.

"The players around me made me better," Schmaltz said. "As a team, we were getting pucks to the net well. Russia played a good game but we just played a little better. The USHL is growing; it's one of the best Junior A leagues around. I think the depth we had and the level of talent showed."

Schmaltz was named the most valuable player in the tournament. The game featured 97 minutes in penalty time, including 67 PIM for Russia. The United States held a 29-17 advantage in shots. Maxim Tretiak, the grandson of Hall of Fame goalie Vladislav Tretiak, made 25 saves.

Yegor Korchkov scored for Russia, which was playing in the tournament's gold medal game for the first time. The Russians have now won three medals in eight trips to the tournament, including bronze in 2006 and 2009.

Petersen, who earned his third victory in the tournament, finished with a 2.67 goals-against average and .873 save percentage. A fifth-round pick (No. 129) of the Buffalo Sabres in the 2013 NHL Draft, Petersen plays for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL and will attend the University of Notre Dame in 2014-15.

"We take a very serious approach to this tournament and with the success we've had in previous years, there's added pressure," Lalonde said. "But we have high-end talent on this team from the USHL. It shows because our depth won us this tournament."

On Saturday, Jeff Wight of Merritt Centennials in the British Columbia Hockey League scored the winner with 2:19 remaining to help Canada West earn a 5-3 victory over Switzerland in the World Junior A Challenge bronze medal game.


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