The United State World Junior team played their first exhibition game in Helsinki, Finland this afternoon against Sweden, and ended up prevailing with a 3-2 win in overtime.
Using the rare pre-tournament exhibition as an opportunity for evaluation, the United States chose to sit out their top line of Rocco Grimaldi, Johnny Gaudreau, and JT Miller, as well as their top two defensemen in Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba. It's only an exhibition, but given that those top players were out, this was a pretty nice result against the defending gold medalists.
Here's a couple notes I took from the game.
-Garrett Sparks got the start in goal. He ended up with pretty decent numbers, stopping 17 of 18 shots, but the first goal he let in was brutal, and I thought he caught a couple breaks on shots that beat him, but went wide, and some bad rebounds that didn't end up costing him. I'd be fine keeping him in the third string role.
-I mentioned right after Thanksgiving that I wasn't looking forward to Rickard Rakell facing off against the US, and his top line was pretty dominant. Defensively, I think the US is going to have to lean very heavily on Jones and Trouba, especially in big situations. After that, I think Connor Murphy and Jake McCabe should be locks, and those guys make up the top four. I'd take Gostisbehere and Grzelcyk after that to from the top six. That leaves one spot for Pat Sieloff, Mike Reilly, and Brady Skjei. Sieloff didn't impress me much today, and his foot speed will be an issue on the big ice. I'd take Skjei, who has had a rough year, but is young, and maybe surprises you.
-With the expected top line sitting out, I was impressed with how Alex Galchenyuk and Mario Lucia stepped up offensively. I suppose Galchenyuk is no surprise, but he took over parts of the second period for the US. Lucia just continues to impress me. He had a great assist today, and makes nice plays every time I see him. Assuming that top line can come in and produce similar results, the US should have two pretty dangerous scoring lines. At the bottom of the lineup, I thought Blake Pietila and Jimmy Vesey had strong games. I don't think you can let either of them go. That last forward spot might be a tough call to make.
-Sweden wasn't nearly as impressive as I expected. It looks like the big names that they are missing are really going to end up hurting them.
-No cuts for the US until the evening after their second exhibition game on the 22nd.