LAKE PLACID, N.Y.
- It took a while, but Sean Kuraly
finally figured out how to get the three components of his game all heading in the same direction at the same time.
Once that happened, he developed into a hard-working offensive talent, and he's had that talent on display during this week's USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp.
Kuraly, a 2011 fifth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks, scored a nifty goal in the second period that put the United States ahead for good in its 5-2 win against Finland on Wednesday at Herb Brooks Arena.
Stefan Noesen had a goal and an assist, and Stefan Matteau, John Gaudreau and Nicolas Kerdiles each had a goal for the U.S. team. John Gibson and Garret Sparks combined in goal for the win.
Miro Aaltonen scored both goals for Finland, which was playing for the third straight day.
After an even first period, Kuraly stole the show with his goal at 6:28 of the second. Mario Lucia flipped a puck off the wall in the U.S. end to Kuraly, who rocketed up the left side of the ice. He spun in the left faceoff circle and fired a shot into traffic in the slot that never got to the net. But his momentum carried him into the middle of the ice where he was able to grab the loose puck and send a second shot on net that beat goalie Richard Ullberg to put the United States up 2-1.
"It was a good play from Mario and Noesen," Kuraly told NHL.com. "They made a nice play, it came right up the wall. I couldn't beat [the Finnish defenseman] wide so I spun back in the middle. First one got blocked and then it's sitting right there.
"Things are falling. When they're falling you put them on net as much as you can and that's what I've been doing."
The goal was Kuraly's team-high fifth of the camp, but things haven't always fallen so well for him. In 2010-11, his first season with the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League, he had eight goals in 51 games. He had opportunities to score more, but while his legs got him into wide-open spaces, he couldn't get his head or his hands to into the right position to put the puck in the net.
"He's always had that blinding speed," U.S. goalie Jon Gillies, a teammate the past two seasons with Indiana, told NHL.com. "He would have six or seven breakaways a game and he may have scored one of them his first year."
Kuraly said it was a question of getting all the facets of his game going the right way, which he was able to do when he returned to Indiana for the start of the 2011-12 season.
"The first year I got about six breakaways a game and I'd score once out of every four games," he said. "Last year I got two a game and buried maybe one a game. It all came together … got everything on the same page -- my hands with my legs and my head. When it comes together, things slow down a little bit and you don't have to go 100 mph."
Things came together so well that Kuraly finished fourth in the USHL with 32 goals and tied for fourth with 70 points.
More than the offense, Kuraly's all-round game made people take notice.
"He's always the hardest worker on the ice," Gillies said. "He's so fast that he's always behind the [defense], he always gets there. But he comes back, too, and that's the biggest asset of his game, his two-way game and how he plays defense. I loved having him on the ice for both years because he's so responsible defensively, and you can always count on him for that big goal, big play, whenever you need it."
U.S. coach Phil Housley said Kuraly's all-round effort is what's made his line with Noesen and Lucia the best of the camp. The trio has combined for nine goals and seven assists in four games.
"They pay attention to the details," Housley said. "They take care of their own end first. As a result you'll see they're getting a lot of transition plays up the ice."
Kuraly said what's helped him most is one simple thought: See puck, get puck.
"That's my role," he said. "I'm simple. Puck's there, I've got to win the puck. I've got to win faceoffs, be in straight lines. That's what I have to do. … I've got to get in there, get the pucks, get it to [teammates] and win battles. If I do that, it all works out."
After Kuraly put Team USA ahead, Gaudreau increased the lead to 3-1 with a hard wrist shot past Ullberg at 16:14 of the second period. Aaltonen's second goal, with two minutes left in the second, pulled Finland to within 3-2. That was as close as Finland could get -- Kerdiles and Noesen scored from in close late in the third to put the game away.
The late U.S. goals were allowed by a team that looked like it was playing its third high-intensity game in as many days.
"It's more like mentally [tired] for me," Finland coach Harri Lindell told NHL.com. "It's 3-2, then we screwed up in our own zone, easy goal, 4-2, and then … another individual mistake, that's the fifth goal."
Finland will get a day off Thursday, while the U.S. team returns to action against Sweden, which beat Finland 8-2 Tuesday.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK