The men’s World U18 championships kicked off on Monday in Frisco, Texas with the Americans facing off against Russia in what turned out to be the type of wild, high-scoring affair that makes top-level international hockey so compelling.
The United States looked like they would cruise through their opening game when they took a 5-1 lead on the Russians early in the second period. But the Russians came storming back to cut the lead to 6-5 after two periods of play.
After controlling play for most of the third period, Russia finally got the equalizer with 5:16 left to send the game to overtime. In the 3-on-3 overtime, Russian captain Nikita Chibrikov scored off a rush to give the Russians the extra point.
Team USA will play their second preliminary round game Tuesday evening against Germany at 8pm CST.
Notes and Thoughts
-The story for the United States at this year’s tournament is going to be their unprecedented youth. Due to injuries, and Covid protocols making it difficult to add players from outside the NTDP program, the US is skating seven players from the 2004 age group, making them by far the youngest team the US has ever fielded for this tournament.
Both the good and the bad of that were on full display in the opening game against Russia. I think you saw some of the high-end skill that those younger players bring on the offensive end of the ice, especially early on in the game when the US came out flying and caught the Russians still trying to feet under themselves.
Particularly impressive was ‘04 D Lane Hutson, who quarterbacked the top US power play unit and registered three assists with some really nice passing. Ryan Chesley had an early goal, albeit a bit of a gift from the Russian goalie. Logan Cooley made some nice offensive plays. Isaac Howard had a nice assist. For a while, it looked like things might just work out.
And then the wheels fell off. There’s not a lot of shame in giving up goals to this Russian team. There are some big name snipers on their roster. But.....it was 5-1. To not come away with a win is a bit of a disaster. I think the maturity of the US team, both from a physical and mental standpoint came into play as the Russians took over control of the game.
What does it mean going forward?
It’s not necessarily time to panic. Like the World Juniors, the preliminary round for the U18s is pretty meaningless. But it may be time to face some realities. The US is the presumptive favorite in this tournament every year, since they’re bringing a very talented, mature team that has played together for the entire season. This year’s team has a lot of talent too, but with two likely first round draft picks out of the line-up, and so many U17 players—combined with the fact that due to Covid, Canada brought their best team ever to this tournament—and expectations are probably pretty low for the US. Most years, anything less than gold is a failure; this year, finding a way to get a medal would probably be considered a win.
-Player of the game in this one without a doubt goes to the Russian captain Nikita Chibrikov, even before the OT goal, just for the impact he had on the game. He took a foolish penalty late in the first period that got him a minor penalty, which the deadly US power play scored on, along with a ten-minute misconduct. Russia was down 5-1 when he came out of the box, but when he came back, he had a couple great shifts that completely changed the momentum of the game.
Chibrikov was ranked late-first round in Bob McKenzie’s pre-tournament draft rankings, but could be a player that rises with a big tournament here.