Ostrava/Trinec, Czech Republic - Team USA is heading to the quarterfinals of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship after a 4-3 overtime win against the Czech Republic on Monday.
Cole Caufield (Montreal) scored the game-winner with his first goal of the tournament at 3:14 of overtime.
"Obviously, when you are coming to tournaments like these you want to make it to the quarterfinals, defenseman and Rangers prospect Zac Jones said. "To get to the gold medal game is the goal for us now."
Following their loss to Canada in the opener, Team USA has won three games in a row, against Germany, Russia and Czech Republic, and will end either first or second in Group B pending Tuesday's results. Monday's game meant a lot for both Team USA and Team Czech Republic, which was boosted by the sold out arena in Ostrava.
"It was awesome. The atmosphere was something else. I haven't played in something like that. It was really cool to be there," Jones said of the atmosphere in Ostravar Arena.
"That's something you dream about when you're a little kid, especially playing in the World Juniors, playing against the home country. That place was packed and loud. And being on the ice was just awesome," Jones said.
The way the game played out helped the crowd get more involved. Team USA scored first. At 3:45 of the first period, Shane Pinto scored on a power play with a one-timer. The Czechs answered at 9:35 when captain Libor Zadransky's long-range shot found its way past US goaltender Spencer Knight. Zabransky then scored again with 1:40 remaining, giving the home team a 2-1 lead.
"This rink is awesome, I'm a huge fan of this rink. It's like my rink in college at home. It's pretty cool to play in here," Jones said.
The Americans rallied in the second. Arthur Kaliyev (LA Kings) silenced the home crowd at 1:19 with a sharp-angle shot that needed video review to confirm that the puck crossed the goal line. Almost five minutes later USA struck again. On the power play, Tyler Zegras (Anaheim) made a spin-o-rama pass to set up Jack Drury (Carolina) on the far post. It was Zegras' eigth assist of the tournament.
In the third, the building went wild at 6:57 when Simon Kubicek's shot from the point found the back of the net. But the goal, reviewed twice, was ruled no good due to goaltender interference. The Czechs got their goal back at 8:41 in the period, when Kubicek's initial shot was saved by Knight, but Petr Cajka converted on the rebound to tie it 3-3 with a power-play goal.
In overtime, Caufiled secured Team USA's place in the quarterfinals.
"We have been playing good the last two games," Jones said. "I mean, just discipline and stuff like that. We didn't take as many penalties."
The quarterfinals will be played on Thursday. The matchups will be decided on Tuesday as the preliminary round ends. For Jones and his teammates, there are still things to improve on as the 'do or die' games begin.
"I think we need to work on the basics, the details, getting better on our power play, our penalty kill and hopefully come out strong against who we play against," Jones said.
Team USA will have a couple of days off before playing their biggest game of the tournament so far. While it gives them time to work on their game, there will also be some time for them to rest.
"We've been to a couple malls so far. But just focusing on hockey and games. Maybe tomorrow or the next day we'll do some tourist stuff," Jones said.