Sabres prospect William Borgen (2015, fourth round) recorded an assist on the game-winning goal Saturday as the United States kicked off the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship with a 4-2 victory over Canada.
With the teams locked in a 2-2 tie, Borgen slid an accurate pass across the blue line to his defensive partner Louis Belpedio (MIN), who quickly sent a wrist shot to the net that was deflected by Canada’s Joe Hicketts (DET) past Mason McDonald (CGY) with 3:18 remaining in regulation.
Auston Matthews (2016), Colin White (OTT) and Zach Werenski (CBJ) each netted a goal and an assist to pace the USA attack, while Matthew Tkachuk (2016) produced a pair of helpers. The projected top pick in the upcoming NHL Draft, Matthews attacked the crease less than a minute after Belpedio’s go-ahead goal to jam home the insurance marker.
Borgen, who skated on USA’s second defensive pair with Miami University’s Belpedio (MIN), was engaged physically from the get-go. The right-shot defenseman met the rush at the blue line on his very shift seconds before getting a good bump on Jake Virtanen (VAN) in the corner when battling for a loose puck.
As the game progressed, Borgen exhibited excellent poise and a high-panic threshold that fueled an all-around steady performance. He displayed an active stick when back-pedaling and maintained the zone with simple decisions along the boards to get the puck deep in the Canadian end.
The 19-year-old was particularly effective blocking lanes and sacrificing his body to step in front of shots as the Americans were forced to kill off a five-minute major penalty to Alex DeBrincat (2016) at the end of the opening frame and start of the second.
Overall, it was a very strong 60-minute effort for the St. Cloud State freshman that should only breed confidence as Team USA looks to ride a wave of momentum into Monday’s meeting with Sweden.
After a scoreless opening period, the teams traded goals in the middle frame to set the stage for the exciting finish.
Canada was first to score with Matt Barzal (NYI) cleaning up a rebound off the rush at 5:06 to give Canada the 1-0 lead. Rourke Chartier (SJS) and Julien Gauthier (2016) were credited with the assists.
The U.S. countered with 3:27 left in the period when White skated into a Sonny Milano (CBJ) rebound off the end boards and batted the puck past McDonald with a backhand. White, a freshman at Boston College, was named USA’s Player of the Game.
The Americans went ahead 2-1 at 7:22 of the third period when a Werenski seeing-eye shot from the point made its way through a maze of bodies into the Canada net. Tkachuk and Matthews picked up assists on the play.
The Americans’ first lead of the night did not last long as the Canadians clawed back with a Dylan Strome (ARI) power-play laser from the left circle less than three minutes later.
The United States locked it down from there with good goaltending and the pair late strikes to ice their first preliminary round victory over Canada since 1998.
Alex Nedeljkovic (CAR) made 25 saves to earn the win for Team USA. Canada’s McDonald finished the night with 21 saves on 25 shots.
Canada will look to rebound Monday versus Denmark while the U.S. will take on Sweden.
SWITZERLAND vs. SWEDEN
Earlier in the day, Dmytro Timashov (TOR) scored a pair of goals plus an assist to guide Sweden to an 8-3 triumph over Switzerland.
Alexander Nylander, eligible to be selected in 2016, pocketed three assists for winners, while William Nylander (TOR), Oskar Lindblom (PHI), Rasmus Asplund (2016), Jacob Forsbacka-Karlsson (BOS), Jacob Larsson (ANA) and Adam Ollas Mattsson (CGY) provided single markers.
Switzerland received two goals from Tino Kessler and one from Noah Rod (SJS).
Sweden did not come away from the contest unscathed, though, as both Nylander and Adrian Kempe (LAK) were knocked out of the game with injuries and did not return. Their status for Monday’s matchup with the United States has yet to be determined.
FINLAND vs. BELARUS
Elsewhere, top draft prospects shined as Jesse Puljujarvi scored twice and added one assist to propel host Finland to a 6-0 shutout of Belarus.
Fellow draft eligible sniper Patrik Laine found the net once, while London Knights defenseman Olli Juilevi (2016) supplied two helpers for the Finns. Sami Niku (WPG), Mikko Rantanen (COL) and Sebastian Repo rounded out the Finland scoring.
CZECH REPUBLIC vs. RUSSIA
In the opening game of the tournament, Artur Lauta tied it up midway through the third period and Maxim Lazarev notched the shootout winner as Russia escaped with a 2-1 victory over the Czech Republic. Michael Spacek (WPG) scored a regulation goal on a penalty shot for the Czech Republic.
Two games are on the docket Sunday as Belarus will take on Slovakia and Denmark is set to take on Switzerland.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s website, SabresProspects.com. You can also follow him on Twitter (@SabresProspects) for in-game updates throughout the week on any Buffalo prospects that are in action. Stay with Sabres.com throughout the World Junior Championship for daily recaps from Kris.