With a round of cuts looming at the 2014 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp, USA Hockey’s top U-20 players, including five Buffalo Sabres prospects, were given one last opportunity Monday to show that they are worthy of a deeper look from coach Mark Osiecki’s staff. Unfortunately for the Americans, it was their European visitors that stole the show.
** TUESDAY UPDATE (8:50 a.m.): With the split squad portion of the week complete, Sean Malone and Connor Hurley have been excused from camp as USA trimmed the 42-man roster down to 27 for the remaining three games. J.T. Compher, Hudson Fasching and Anthony Florentino remain on the USA roster. **
UPDATED USA ROSTER
In Monday’s opening tilt, Victor Olofsson (2014, seventh round) scored the game-winning goal as Sweden upended Team USA Blue 6-2. Adrian Kempe (LAK), Leon Bristedt, Lucas Wallmark (CAR), Anton Blidh (BOS) and Adam Brodecki rounded out the scoring for the Swedes. Dylan Larkin (DET) and Alex Tuch (MIN) provided even-strength markers for the U.S. side.
Olofsson, who proved himself as an impressive shooter at the Sabres’ recent development camp, bagged his first goal of the week off the rush when he buried a Jacob de la Rose (MTL) feed high glove side at 7:32 of the second period. A quick set of feet have gotten Olofsson to open spaces through Sweden’s first two games, making him a compelling scoring prospect when the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship kicks off Dec. 26.
Goaltender Jonas Johansson (2014, third round) was given a day off after his 35-save performance Sunday in a 4-3 victory over USA White. Samuel Ward made 28 saves to secure the victory in his absence.
Forwards Sean Malone (2013, sixth round) and Connor Hurley (2013, second round), and defenseman Anthony Florentino (2013, fifth round) were all unable to get on the score sheet for USA Blue. Malone was perhaps the most efficient of the three as he continued to use his speed and defensive aptitude to make the most of his ice time, but the Swedes simply outplayed their American counterparts in all facets of the game for the second straight day.
In the day’s second game, Kasperi Kapanen (PIT) extended an excellent summer showing with his second goal of the tournament to help Finland to a 4-3 victory over USA White.
Hudson Fasching picked up an assist for the Americans, while fellow Sabres prospect J.T. Compher (2013, second round) did not factor into the scoring as USA White dropped their third decision in as many days.
Fasching, who lined up at right wing on a scoring line with Ryan MacInnis (ARZ) and Sonny Milano (CBJ), had a good jump in his step all game long. Fasching sparked his team with physical play and powerful drives to the net with the puck on his stick, and continues to play well on both sides of the puck to maintain his projection as a middle-line forward.
Skating between Anthony Louis (CHI) and Michael McCarron (MTL), Compher’s strong two-way effort was highlighted by savvy plays from behind the Swedish net to set up multiple scoring opportunities. Much like he did over the course of his freshman year at Michigan, Compher also saw time at the left point on the top unit power play as USA went with four forwards and one defender while up a man.
With the duo reunited late and USA White desperate for a goal, Compher sent a diving feed to Fasching in front for a golden opportunity that was stopped by Finnish netminder Kevin Lankinen for one of his 30 saves.
Sonny Milano (CBJ) paced USA White with a goal and two assists, while Connor Clifton (ARZ) and Will Butcher (COL) added single markers. Aleksi Makela, Saku Kinnunen and Hannes Bjorninen added goals for the Finns.
NJEC game action resumes Wednesday with USA taking on Sweden at 4 p.m. ET.
For more on all the youngsters in the Sabres pipeline, check out Kris Baker’s web site - 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.