The United States National Junior Team ended 2015 on a high note Thursday, overcoming an early deficit to defeat Denmark 4-1 at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. The victory gives the U.S. a second-place finish in Group A at the close of preliminary round play, setting the stage for a quarterfinal showdown with the Czech Republic on Saturday (1 p.m. ET, NHL Network).
Auston Matthews (2016), Colin White (OTT) and Sonny Milano (CBJ) paced the Americans with a goal and an assist each. Top-line winger Matthew Tkachuk (2016) chipped in with a pair of helpers.
Sabres prospect William Borgen (2015, fourth round) produced three shots on goal in the victory, leaving the right-shot defenseman with one assist and a plus-2 rating through four games entering the elimination rounds.
The hallmark of Borgen’s effort in the group play finale was his strong skating and stick positioning against a Danish team that was consistently going hard on the forecheck. His feet kept him in the right spots in his own zone, which made his task of clogging shooting lanes and disrupting the Danes’ middle-ice attack much easier.
While being a mostly defensive-minded contributor and efficient penalty killer, Borgen also logged some productive offensive shifts, including one at the midway point of the second period that saw the forwards cycle the puck to him high in the zone for two quality shots on goal.
The American squad didn’t need any wake up calls with playoff seeding on the line, yet they received one anyways as Denmark struck first at 10:14 of the opening period when defenseman Louis Belpedio (MIN) saw his outlet pass intercepted at the blue line, allowing Mathias Lassen to skate in uncontested and beat Brandon Halverson (NYR) for the early lead. Borgen was on the ice for the goal against, the first such occurrence in the tournament.
The U.S. applied pressure over the next several minutes, ultimately countering at 17:04 with Matthews’ fourth goal of the tournament. Seconds after getting stoned at the doorstep, Matthews maintained his position at the edge of the crease for a quick deposit of a Tkachuk centering feed to even the score entering the first intermission.
The U.S. found themselves killing a penalty early in the middle frame, but the offender quickly atoned as Milano exited the box, skated down the ice and jammed a rebound over the goal line for his first goal of the tournament at 4:02 to give the Americans their first lead of the night.
It appeared that the U.S. added to their lead at 5:29 of the third period, but White clearly kicked the puck underneath Mathis Seldrup. He’d scored one that counted on the very next shift, though, as Matthews hustled to a loose puck and slung a wrist shot to the net that was tipped by the right-winger to make it a 3-1 game.
University of Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork (BOS) rounded out the scoring with 12:17 remaining when he deftly redirected a Milano pass for his first goal of the tournament.
With the two-point effort, Matthews moves into a tie for third among tournament scorers with four goals and four assists. White (3+4) and Tkachuk (2+5) are tied for sixth with seven points each.
The U.S. enters Saturday’s quarterfinal tilt with the Czechs having allowed just five goals through their first four games.
Finland vs. Czech Republic
The Jesse Puljujarvi train kept rolling as the top 2016 draft prospect added two more tallies to his sparkling tournament resume to help Finland to an exciting 5-4 triumph over the Czech Republic. The 17-year-old Puljujarvi leads all tournament scorers with five goals and 12 points entering Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup with Canada.
Power forward Patrik Laine (2016) notched the game-winning goal for the Finns with 5:47 remaining in regulation, while defenseman Olli Juolevi (2016) assisted on both the game-tying and game-winning markers. Roope Hintz (DAL) and Antti Kalapudas provided the other Finland goals. Sebastian Aho (CAR) connected for a pair of assists.
Jiri Smejkal, Jan Ordos, David Skelnicka and Michael Spacek (WPG) scored for the Czechs, who face the U.S. in the quarterfinal round.
Russia vs. Slovakia
Artur Lauta and Yegor Rykov each lit the lamp as Russia claimed the top spot in Group B with a 2-1 victory over Slovakia.
The Russians will look to keep their puck possession style intact when they meet Denmark in the first of Saturday’s four quarterfinal contests. Slovakia, who received a goal from defenseman Christian Jaros (OTT), moves on to battle Sweden.
Sweden vs. Canada
In Group A, Gustav Forsling (VAN), Alexander Nylander (2016) and Rasmus Asplund (2016) each netted a goal and an assist to lead undefeated Sweden to a 5-2 win over Canada. Adrian Kempe (LAK) and Anton Karlsson (ARI) added single markers for the Swedes, while Mitchell Stephens (TBL) and Mitch Marner (TOR) scored for Canada.
Next up for Sweden is a date with the Slovaks. Canada draws a tough quarterfinal assignment against host Finland.
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 recaps from Kris.