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Feature: Team USA's U18s spin tale of gold

by Roger Godin / Minnesota Wild
When the United States pulled off its unexpected upset of the Russians at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, the game was a gut-grinder right to the end. With 10 minutes to go, few thought the one-goal lead would hold up in view of the Russian shot advantage and the aura of invincibility that the former Soviets held in the world hockey community.

Fast forward 29 years later to the IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Fargo-Moorhead, and let me assure you there were no such concerns on the U.S. side in their gold medal game against Russia. With a solid 5-0 lead, an overwhelming shot advantage, and slightly more than 16 minutes to play, the only question left was not victory or defeat, but whether goalie Jack Campbell (Port Huron, Mich.) would keep his shutout. Dominating from start to finish, the American team played a near perfect game in securing their third U18 world title in the last five years. The win also marked the first United States victory in a major international hockey tournament played in this country since Lake Placid, as well as the first time this country has hosted the prestigious International Ice Hockey Federation event.

Applying an intense forecheck from the drop of the puck, the Americans scored on the power play 2:09 into the game when defenseman Cam Fowler (Farmington Hills, Mich.), named the tournament’s best defenseman, converted from University of Denver -bound Drew Shore (Denver, Colo.). Matt Nieto (Long Beach, Calif.) made it 2-0 after one period, while team captain William Wrenn (Anchorage, Alaska) scored the middle stanza’s only tally on another assist from Shore. By this point, the home team enjoyed a 28-9 advantage in shots and a clear territorial superiority.

It didn’t end there, however, as the United States scored twice more on goals by Chris Brown (Flower Mound, Texas) and Ryan Bourque (Boxford, Mass.) early in the third period. Bourque, son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, was assisted by Minnesotan Nick Mattson (Chanhassen), a 6-foot-1, 176-pound defenseman who has committed to the University of North Dakota. (Mattson, incidentally, collected zero penalty minutes in 5O games with the U18s this past season, a feat that is not without precedent at the NHL level, considering Hall of Fame defenseman Bill Quackenbush went through a complete season with the 1948-49 Detroit Red Wings without any penalties.) When it was over, hats and sticks went in the air in celebration, and gold medals went around the necks of the American players.

"That was as well as we played all year," Team USA coach Ron Rolston told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  "Our defensive flow was outstanding. We limited their best players’ opportunities, and … Jack Campbell made the saves when we needed them."

Campbell made 17 saves as the U.S. fired 43 shots at Russian goaltender Igor Bobkov. Bobkov was named the tournament’s best goaltender, but Campbell, through some interesting logic, made the All-Tournament Team. Joining him on the team was Fowler on defense and Jerry D’Amigo (Binghamton, N.Y.) at forward. D’Amigo was the United States’ leading scorer with 13 points (four goals, nine assists), while Campbell finished with a 0.75 GAA and two shutouts.

Finland came from behind to defeat Canada, 5-4, in a shootout to take the bronze medal. The Finns’ Toni Rajala was named the tournament’s best forward.

Both the U.S.-Canada semifinal matchup (a 2-1 American win) and the gold medal games were 4,923-seat sellouts in Fargo’s new Urban Plains Center.

Roger Godin serves as curator for the Minnesota Wild, and, in addition to being responsible for the artifacts and display areas of Xcel Energy Center, is of the most astute historians of hockey in the United States.
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