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U.S. Drops World Cup Finale to Czech Republic

Parise registers assist as Americans finish tournament winless

by Evan Sporer / Special to Wild.com

TORONTO - As Zach Parise took a pass on the goal line, he didn't survey his options: He already knew what he was going to do. 

Parise had a power play assist, his first point in a competitive hockey game since April 3, and a sign both his body and hockey brain are ready for NHL action. 

The United States lost to the Czceh Republic 4-3 on Thursday. The result, much like the game, was going to be inconsequential, especially from a Minnesota Wild perspective.

It was one thing for Parise to play hockey in "Da Beauty League" this summer, a cut above shinny hockey, or in World Cup exhibitions, warmups for what he faced in Toronto. 

But once the games started, the meaningful games, and the pace picked up, Parise kept up both physically and mentally. 

His assist to Pavelski showed he was both aware the Sharks forward was cutting in from the circles, and that when the puck was moved to Parise down low, the Czech defenseman protecting the passing lane would rotate down, giving Parise the requisite ice to find Pavelski. 

In the second period, Parise came inches away from scoring a power play goal of his own when he deflected a shot that hit off the inside of the post and slid across the crease. 

He's shown a willingness to go to the front of the net despite the cross-checks and other abuse that comes with living in that area, another nod to his physical readiness. 

Key Moment: The United States appeared like it was in the mix to earn its first win of the tournament, which would have ended a four-game losing streak in best-on-best international competitions. 

Tied at 2 late in the second period, things unraveled for the Americans when the Czech Republic scored two goals in 39 seconds, not only retaking the lead, its third of the game, but also grabbing a two-goal advantage heading into the final period.

The Skinny: Though success would have been a nice bonus, the biggest rooting interest for the Wild at the World Cup was a clean bill of health. 

This was a layered interest: Not only did the Wild hope all its players would return to Minnesota with nothing more than a few bumps and bruises, but also for Parise to be able to check another item of his list as he prepares for the upcoming season. 

It was one thing for Parise to say he had no trepidation coming into these World Cup games, and that he felt fine physically. But to see him actually look healthy, and say he felt great in the games, was another hurdle. 

A brief scare with Mikko Koivu after he blocked a shot with his foot late in the second period of Finland's game against Team Europe on Thursday was put to bed when Koivu played the entire third period. The Wild's contingent appears to be leaving Toronto physically intact. 

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