Who: United States vs. Russia
What: World Juniors semifinals
When: 3:00pm EST
Where: Bell Centre, Montreal
Television: NHL Network/TSN
United States, 5-0-0-0, 1st place Group B
W vs. Latvia 6-1
W vs. Slovakia 5-2
W vs. Russia 3-2
W vs. Canada 3-1
W vs. Switzerland 3-2
After rolling through the preliminary round, the US faced quite a scare, albeit temporarily, when Switzerland forced a 2-2 in the third period of their quarterfinal match-up, before the US retook the lead 13 seconds later.
It was an ugly sloppy effort that was barely good enough to beat Switzerland, and likely not good enough to beat any of the remaining teams. If that game served to refocus to the United States and they come out looking more like the team that played in the preliminary round, they’ve got a great shot against Russia. If they continue to make the same mistakes they did against Switzerland, they’ll likely be looking to regroup for the bronze on Thursday.
Top Players: Clayton Keller is a dynamic offensive talent that the US will count on to generate offensive chances. Jordan Greenway scored the game-winning goal against Switzerland and has moved into second on the team in scoring with six points. The big forward is having an outstanding tournament and his size could present match-up problems for a strong, physical Russian defense. Jeremy Bracco has come up huge in the past two games as well, scoring a big insurance goal against Canada, and helping put goals on the board against Switzerland during a rare quiet game for the Keller/Colin White top line duo.
In Goal: Bob Motzko wouldn’t commit to starting Tyler Parsons in the semifinal over Joseph Woll, but come on, it’s gotta be Parsons, right? He’s been solid all tournament and was sensational against the Swiss with a couple big saves to preserve the victory. That’s no slight against Woll, who has been good when he has played in this tournament. But there is absolutely no reason to change goalies with stakes this high when the absolute best case scenario from Woll is the same performance Parsons gave you last round.
Russia, 3-0-0-2, 3rd place Group B
L vs. Canada 5-3
W vs. Latvia 9-1
L vs. United States 3-2
W vs. Slovakia 2-0
W vs. Denmark 4-0
You might as well ignore those past results. Russia is always the most unpredictable team in this tournament, equally capable of turning in a dominating performance or struggling to beat a weak team. Except when they play the United States. You’re guaranteed to see Russia give their best effort when they face the red, white, and blue. And that goes doubly so for a medal round game.
Key Players: Minnesota Wild draft pick Kirill Kaprizov has been one of the breakout players of this tournament. He’s second in tournament scoring with 10 points, and his seven goals leads the tournament. Linemate Mikhail Vorobyov has eight assists in the tournament. Dallas first round pick Denis Guryanov has had a quieter tournament, but is incredibly dangerous with his speed.
On the blue line, Montreal’s top pick last Mikhail Sergachyov has had a quieter tournament, but he’s always a dangerous scoring threat from the blue line. The real standout on the blue line for Russia in this tournament
In Goal: First round Washington Capitals pick and mortal enemy of the United States Ilya Samsonov has gone from being Russia’s designated US stopper last year to just being the guy in net this year. He’s played every game except against Latvia. Samsonov made 26 saves to hold the US to a single goal in last year’s WJC semifinals, and two years ago, made 49 stops in a 3-1 upset win over the US at the World U18 championships. He’s a great goalie that always seems to find a way to play his best against the United States.
Keys to a US Victory:
- Stay out of the GD penalty box
I tried to be polite about this in the last round, but obviously the message didn’t take. International hockey is called tighter than it is in North America. Everybody knows this. It’s time for the US to adapt, because they absolutely cannot afford to give away cheap power play opportunities in a game that is likely to be this tight.
2. Be prepared for adversity
The US still hasn’t trailed yet in this tournament, but there’s a very good chance that it happens against Russia. In each of the past three years, the US has fallen behind and hasn’t been able to generate the offense needed to get back into the game. They’ll need somebody to step up with a big goal.
3. Play the full 60
Never, ever count Russia out of this tournament until the clock hits zero. They’ve been involved in some crazy comebacks, and crazy endings in this tournament. If the US is able to get a lead, they have to keep attacking and keep building on it because if they don’t, the Russians will likely find a way to make them pay.