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World Juniors: United States Breaks Russian Curse in Shootout

Team Unites States v Team Russia - Semifinal - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The United States and Russia engaged in another classic back-and-forth battle between two rivals in the World JunOMG TROY TERRY I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT HAPPENED

If you’re here, you probably already know the story. The United States fell behind for the first two times in this tournament. But Clayton Keller and Colin White and Russia’s #9, my new favoritest, worst backcheckingest Russian ever, refused to add to the mountain of history that said the United States should lose this game. After saying all tournament that this US team was built to play with the lead, Denis Guryanov sent the game to overtime with a third period goal because nothing in this tournament can ever be that easy. Though frankly, a game like that deserved extra time.

Overtime was much like regulation. A tense, non-stop thrill ride with both teams generating quality chances, but not quite able to inch far enough ahead to take the game. And then there it was. Troy Terry makes a perfect pass to Caleb Jones, who puts a backhand on net. Under normal circumstances, you might expect a shot like that to have a good chance at going in. But not with Ilya Samsonov in net. Not against the guy that stopped 49 of 50 shots against an Auston Matthews-led US team at the World U18 championships. Not against the guy who was Russia’s back-up goalie at last year’s tournament, but was specifically put in net to face the US and shut them down to bounce them out of the tournament in the quarterfinals. There’s no way it was going to be that easy. Samsonov sprawls and make a fantastic save.

The rebound bounces to Joey Anderson in front of the net. He can’t get much on the shot, but he doesn’t need to. Samsonov is down and out of the play and the net is wide open in front of him. The game should be over. It doesn’t go in.

This is the greatest hockey tournament in the world. The combination of uber-advanced skill with not-quite-yet-a-hockey-robot immaturity leads to an unparalleled roller coaster of emotion as games swing from enormous highs to deep lows with the highest of stakes on the line. Last year at this time, I was standing in my living room, cheering on Finland as they won the gold medal. I have no connection to, nor care the least bit about Finland. But the sheer drama of the moment sucked me in like no other hockey game could. Whatever recriminations or disappointments I might have annually about the way the US selects their roster is only borne out of the frustration of too often being left on the outside looking in on this amazing spectacle.

The game goes to a shootout. Guryanov scores again to give the Russians an early lead and the top US forwards can’t answer. I think the game is over, figuratively. The Russians—mistakenly thinking it’s a three-man shootout rather than the international five-man shootout—literally think it’s over and hop off their bench to begin the celebration.

So much importance condensed into such a small timeframe has a way of forging these capital-M Moments in the tournament that stick in the memory forever. They make Heroes: A young Jack Campbell making a big overtime save and John Carlson finishing the play on the other end of the ice. Jacob Trouba and Seth Jones voltroning into an impenetrable wall. Patrick O’Sullivan getting the world’s biggest assist from Marc-Andre Fleury. They make Villains: John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, scores of anonymous Russians from the KHL. They make Goats: Eric Tangradi high-sticking a Canadian player from the bench. John Gibson taking a dumb interference penalty, and Emerson Etem opening his dumb mouth, to help follow up a gold medal with a trip to the relegation round on home soil. Steve Santini firing the puck from his own end over the glass on the opposite end to put the US two men down against the Russians. They all become etched into the history of this event and are ever too far out of memory.

The US is down to their last shooter in the fifth round of the shootout. Everyone expects the smooth stickhandler Jeremy Bracco to try a fancy deke, including Samsonov, who crouches with his stick extended, ready for a pokecheck. Another piece of history is about to be etched. Samsonov will forever be The Goalie the US Couldn’t Beat. Clayton Keller’s missed penalty shot, or Anderson not being able to get enough on that rebound attempt to put it away, or the play Alex DeBrincat never got the chance to make will be would be the symbol of tournament the US could have won, but just slipped through their fingers. Bracco doesn’t deke. This one does go in and they play on.

The reprieve doesn’t last. Tyler Parsons makes a save to send the shootout to sudden death, just in case the overtime and shootout wasn’t intense enough for you. Guryanov scores...again, and now the game is on Troy Terry’s stick. Samsonov goes for a late pokecheck, but Terry has already made his move and slides it between Samsonov’s legs for a second time in the shootout.

Russia decides not to put Guryanov back out for round seven even though he’s scored nearly every time he touched the puck. Instead, Alexander Polunin’s shot hits Parsons’ glove and deflects just high enough to catch the top of the cross bar. The US does go back with their hot hand.

Samsonov, and the missed penalty shot, and the overtime chances fade away like a Back to the Future photo. This was, and now forever will be, Troy Terry’s moment. That’s what the World Juniors is all about.

Notes and Thoughts

-Yeah, I’m not a big fan of a game like that being ended by a shootout either.

-The US defense had played fine leading into this game, but we knew this was not an elite group. Russia has some elite forwards with size and speed and they exposed the US a little bit today. On the first goal, Joe Cecconi gets outskated behind the net leading to the Kaprizov goal. On the second Russian goal, the smaller D pairing of Casey Fitzgerald and Jack Ahcan get out-muscled down low leading to Guryanov’s rebound goal.

-I knew that was bound to happen eventually. There’s too many elite players in this tournament for it not to and that is why I made such a big deal about the US bringing as much scoring as possible to this tournament. Turns out they didn’t need it—though scoring an extra goal during real hockey would have negated needing to settle the game by what amounts to a coin flip.

They were bailed out by an absolutely sensational effort from their top line. The goals by Clayton Keller and Colin White, taken in a vacuum, look like lucky goals with Keller scoring from a poor angle and White’s shot deflecting off a defenseman and knuckling past Samsonov. But that line was in the Russian zone and threatening to score nearly every shift they were on the ice. It was just a dominating effort from them.

I think I said this earlier, but this game cemented it. The US has had better individual talent on their top line in recent years, but this top line has performed better than any other I can ever remember for the US.

-I wasn’t quite sure of what to make of Tyler Parsons last year when I watched him with London. He had great numbers, but spent a lot of time watching Mitch Marner et al. work their wizardry on the other end of the ice, and I’m generally skeptical of goalies like that on loaded teams. But I really can’t say enough about how well he has played in this tournament. He’s been a tremendous difference-maker for the US.

-That’s what makes the US strategy of riding one great line and a hot goalie so frustrating. Sometimes it actually works. Enjoy the ride while it happens I guess.

-There’s some question about whether the US should come back with Parsons on Thursday in the final on no rest after a grueling game against Russia or make the switch and go with Joseph Woll. Woll has been good enough to make it tempting, but I think it is Parsons’ net at this point. He’s earned the right, he’s red hot, and at this point, I think you just pray that adrenaline is enough to carry him through. He should have plenty of it, and if not, I’ll have some extra he can borrow.