Stressful as it felt at times, that was still somehow easier than I expected. The United States was the stronger, better team all night long, and were able to use that advantage to win their quarterfinal match-up 4-2 over Russia.
Some quick notes on the big win:
-The US couldn’t have asked for a better start. Things started early when Casey Mittelstadt made a brilliant move to turn the feet of a Russian defender and draw a hooking penalty. That’s the type of play where Mittelstadt doesn’t end up on the scoresheet, but he’s contributing to the offense by setting his team up with an opportunity to score.
-And the US was able to take advantage of that first power play opportunity when Kieffer Bellows picked up a loose puck and buried it. Bellows had a great game tonight.
Prior to both of Bellows’ goals tonight, he put a pair of shots on net that, if anybody else had taken them, I would have thought they were a bit forced and unnecessary, but shooters shoot. On a night when things were tight and the US needed somebody to be a game-breaker, he was the guy.
-Joe Woll was good enough in goal tonight. I said there should be a short leash for him tonight, and after letting in a really soft first goal—made even worse by the situation where the US absolutely dominated the first 10 minutes and came out of it tied—it was looking like the US might need to turn to Jake Oettinger. But Woll settled down after a shaky first period, and looked really calm and collected in the final two periods, including an incredible save on Vitali Abramov in the second period. He definitely earned the start against Sweden.
-A lot of credit for the US defensive performance belongs to the US blue line. They’ve been as strong as any group I can remember the US fielding in this tournament, with nobody standing out as a weak link. Some of that may be because the Russians lack a bit of explosiveness offensively, but I mean, there’s still some talent there, and the US kept them very quiet.
Special mention goes to Dylan Samberg, who not only set up the game-winning goal with a perfect dump in, but perhaps more importantly, was one of the defensemen the US called on coming out of a timeout with a face-off in their zone and 1:30 remaining. Samberg has struggled with some of the more technical aspects in the college game this season, but he was a guy that I thought could really excel in this tournament because he’s such an incredible athlete, and he has really risen to the occasion.
-It wasn’t quite a perfect defensive game though. I said one of the biggest keys to the game would be whether we got the good Adam Fox or the bad Adam Fox, and unfortunately, the US got the bad in the third period, when a Russian forward flew by Fox one-on-one to score the game-tying goal. Like I said, that kind of stuff is going to happen—Fox just doesn’t have the speed or strength to make that play. Fox probably knows better than anybody that he’s got to make offensive plays to make up for that. He was practically a forward on his next three shifts trying to make up for that goal. Thankfully, the bad didn’t cost them tonight, and hopefully some of the good pays off in the next rounds, because the US will need that.