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World Juniors

3 'Star' keys to success for U.S. against Russia

NHL Network analyst Dave Starman says play in neutral zone, making most of chances among areas of focus

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

MONTREAL -- The NHL Network is providing exclusive live telecasts of all games for the United States national junior team at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal.

The United States will play Russia in a semifinal-round game at Bell Centre on Wednesday (3 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN)

"NHL Now" co-host Steve Mears and NCAA hockey analyst Dave Starman have provided commentary for each U.S. game. Starman said the fact the United States has never beaten Russia (0-7) in the playoff round is irrelevant at this point.

Video: Mears on Team USA at the World Junior Championships

"U.S. coach Bob Motzko is pitching a perfect game in terms of creating the right mindset for this group," Starman said. "It's about the next shift, not last year's results. The U.S. hadn't fared well against Canada on New Year's Eve either and that worked out pretty well for the Stars and Stripes."

Starman has provided for his three keys to victory for the United States before each of its games during the 11-day tournament, which runs through Thursday.

Here is his sixth installment, looking at the U.S. game against Russia on Wednesday:


1. Own the neutral zone

"The U.S. has been the best team between the blue lines that I've seen (Disclaimer: I've only seen Sweden once) at the WJC on a consistent basis. It's an area where they have shown an ability to quickly get through offensively, have managed the puck well, and created offensive chances by using the options given them as they head north through it. They have managed to keep a third forward high to intensify their transition defensively. When pucks have approached their defensive blue line, coverage has been good and they have had all five skaters in the frame. They have been able to generate offense and eliminate chances because of how good they have been in this area."

Video: WJC Quarterfinal Round Highlights: USA 3, SUI 2


2. Think Frozen Four/NCAA Tournament

"What is the hardest game of the four you need to win in the NCAA Tournament? Usually the regional semifinal, especially if you're the favorite. Coach Motzko watched his favored St. Cloud State University Huskies upset by Ferris State just last year. He's been on the other side of that upset when his team made the Frozen Four a few years ago. The trap game for the U.S. following the Canada win was against Switzerland.

This is mostly a college team with one pro who played in college. Motzko told the team that starting January 2, it was like playing three Game 7s. That's true, you lose and no gold. However, after four games where one loss doesn't hurt you, it's hard for young players to turn the switch emotionally. After a win against Canada, it's hard to come back against a team you have no rivalry against or hatred towards and be that emotionally aroused. [Motzko] knew that. After surviving on a half-a-tank-of-energy, the tank will be full and the emotion back against a team they absolute love to beat and hate to lose. The end goal is now in sight."


3. Make chances count

"The U.S., despite six goals in its past two games, hasn't generated a ton of chances. They have missed nets and not capitalized. Their goaltending has been so good it's actually covered some of those goals left on the table. There hasn't been a goal scored where you would say, 'The goalie would probably like to have that shot back.' When you're playing for your playoff lives, chances might be as plentiful as during your average game, so bury what you get. No shot is a bad shot and against Switzerland, the U.S. didn't take enough shots. When this team has controlled games, it has put the puck on goal and let the puck do the hard work. Shot mentality needs to be there."

Video: Starman, Mears break down USA's win over Switzerland

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