Things didn't start out pretty for the US World Junior team in their first exhibition game tonight against Minnesota State, but they certainly ended in a pretty fashion. Hudson Fasching's beautiful individual effort in overtime to skate through a Minnesota State defender and deke around goalie Evan Karambelas gave the Americans a 3-2 exhibition win over the Mavericks.
After a scoreless first period, Minnesota State would score the first of two power play goals on the evening on a nice play by J-P LaFontaine. Quentin Shore answered back for Team USA just 2:46 later to even the score. Minnesota State pulled into the lead early in the third period while on a 5-minute power play on a goal by Johnny McInnis. But Team USA would tie the score once again when Ian McCoshen's shot from the point on a US power play was deflected by an MSU defender and into the net.
Playing a 4-on-4 overtime in accordance with international rules, Fasching picked up a pass in the neutral zone from defenseman Jaccob Slavin, and entered the zone on the left wing one-on-one with Minnesota State's Blake Thompson. Fasching put the puck between Thompson's legs, then skated across the crease and shoved the puck past a sprawling Karambelas to win the game.
Goalies Jon Gillies and Anthony Stolarz split the game in goal for the US. Gillies faced 12 shots, while Stolarz faced 10 shots.
The Americans will hold a team meeting tomorrow morning, where some cuts will be announced, before packing up and heading to Sweden. They'll play two more exhibition games before starting tournament play on December 26th.
6:05 Jean-Paul LaFontaine from Matt Leitner and Zach Palmquist (power play) 1-0 Minnesota State
LaFontaine picked up a rebound from a Leitner shot, and from below the goal line, was able to reach back and tuck the puck behind Gillies for the goal.
8:51 Quentin Shore from Jaccob Slavin and Steven Santini 1-1 tie
Shore fired a hard wrist shot from the right circle beat Williams.
2:44 Johnny McInnis from Jean-Paul LaFontaine and Zach Palmquist (power play) 2-1 Minnesota State
LaFontaine passed the puck from behind the net, and McInnis lifted a backhander over the shoulder of Stolarz and into the net.
9:03 Ian McCoshen from Anthony DeAngelo and Stefan Matteu (power play) 2-2 tie
McCoshen took a feed from DeAngelo at the right point and fired a one-timer past a screened Evan Karambelas.
3:14 Hudson Fasching from Jaccob Slavin 3-2 Team USA Wins
Off a turnover in the neutral zone, Fasching broke into the zone and made a nice move through a Minnesota State defenseman and deked around Karambelas for the winning goal.
-Overall, it wasn't the most crisp effort from Team USA tonight, but that's to be expected given that it is their first game as a team. It's also worth remembering that the US sat out six skaters that are locks to go to Sweden. The consensus from some of the USA players after the game was that they started very slow, but got better as the game progressed, and all agreed that it was nice to get some experience and start working on chemistry together.
-As far as finding an identity for this team, this group doesn't necessarily have much in the way of high-end star talent, but it's a very deep team. A couple guys are going to have to be sent home tomorrow, and it's going to be a very, very tough choice on who to pick. While nobody stood out head-and-shoulders above the rest, everybody looked pretty solid, especially on defense.
-No cuts were made after tonight's game. The plan was to cut two forwards and one defenseman tomorrow, but some injury situations may complicate things. Most notably, forward JT Compher, who was a lock for the team, was wearing a walking boot after the game. Compher blocked a shot in practice on Monday that caused the injury. The US may choose to keep an extra player around if Compher is questionable or can't go.
Also on the injury front, Tommy DiPauli took a high stick to the face and spit out a tooth on the bench after his shift. Don Lucia said he'd need to see the dentist, but DiPauli was able to return, and if anything, looked better in the second half of the game without that tooth.
-The US spent a lot of time this week working on their special, and it looks like that is still a work in progress. They gave up two power play goals on four opportunities. Their first two power plays weren't all that great, but on their third opportunity, they started to move the puck much better and ended up getting the game-tying goal off of it.
-Adam Erne received a five-minute major and game misconduct for a hit from behind. The hit itself wouldn't have been particularly noteworthy had it not come on the heels of Erne's devastating cheap shot on Canada's Jonathan Drouin. Like I said, Erne's hit from behind tonight wasn't all that bad. It was a quick-developing play. Erne probably could have held up, but it certainly wasn't as bad as the first. Still, Erne has developed a reputation, and will probably have to tone things down a bit once the US gets to Sweden. A penalty like that in tournament play could be costly.
-I was really impressed with 17-year-old Jack Eichel tonight. He centered the top US line and at times, was the team's most dangerous offensive threat. Eichel admitted their were some pre-game jitters before tonight, but got more comfortable as the game went on. He's incredibly strong on the puck, and uses that size and strength very effectively. He said he tries to model his game after players like Jeff Carter and Ryan Getzlaf and that seems like a solid comparison. If he gets a little more confidence in his abilities as a goal scorer, he could have the type of tournament that Phil Kessel did as a 17-year-old for the US in 2006.
-Two of the bubble guys that really stood out to me tonight were forward Tyler Motte and defenseman Jaccob Slavin. Motte kept things simple and played his role perfectly. He got pucks deep, kept his shifts short, was relentless in pursuing the puck, and had a few scoring chances.
Slavin was brilliant on the blue line. Coming into the game, he would have been the most likely cut, in my mind, but I loved what he brought to the table. He was excellent at handling the forecheck and breaking the puck out of the zone--better than some of his more highly-touted counterparts at times--and made a couple nice long passes that led to assists. Two guys are going to have to go home on the blue line, and he's still one of the likely candidates, but he acquitted himself very well here.
-Aside from Slavin, Steve Santini, Brett Pesce, and Anthony DeAngelo are also some guys that could be on the bubble. Santini and Pesce are both sound and reliable, but not overly spectacular. DeAngelo brings a nice element to the US power play, but could be a defensive liability, and after the game tonight, Lucia talked about DeAngelo sometimes trying to do too much, rather than using his teammates.
-Forward is also a tough choice. As much as I like Ryan Fitzgerald, he might be a guy that gets caught up in the numbers game, as he doesn't quite have the versatility of some of the other guys he's fighting for a spot. Zach Stepan is probably on the outside looking in as well. He's a swiss army knife type of guy that can play a lot of roles, but doesn't quite have the high-end ability of some of the other guys. Quentin Shore brings some nice things to the table offensively, and he got some time on the PK, though he probably wouldn't be my first choice. Lucia also said Shore would be the first to admit he's not a really fast skater. Tommy DiPauli impressed me enough with his strength and work ethic tonight that I think he'd be strong in a third line role.
But really, I wouldn't be surprised if any of those guys made it, and I wouldn't be surprised at anyone being cut. There's a lot of excellent choices, which is a nice problem for the US to have.
-Hudson Fasching's game-winning goal was ridiculous. You can see a video of it here. His coach at Minnesota, Don Lucia told him after the game, "Your college coach would probably play you more if you could make more plays like that." Fasching, for his part, didn't even have words to describe how he made the play after the game.