The defending World Junior Champions opened their title defense Thursday with a 5-1 win over Czech Republic. The tournament, being played in Malmo, Sweden, features 10 of the best Under-20 teams from around the world.
In last years tournament in Russia, the United States defeated Sweden. But the difference this year is that three players return and the roster features more NCAA players than junior and AHL players.
Against Czech Republic, the Americans scored two power play goals in the first two minutes. US captain Riley Barber (Miami) scored the first at 1:21 and then Will Butcher (Denver) followed up with a tally at the 2:02 mark.
On their start, Team USA coach Don Lucia was pleased to see the early lead. “When you get the two power-play goals to begin the game and can play with the, lead it’s much, much easier to play the game,” he said. “Our defense did a good job breaking us out and Jon Gillies was there when we needed him.”
The second period also went in favor of the United States as Hudson Fasching (Minnesota) and Jaccob Slavin (Colorado College) scored in the middle frame, with Slavin’s goal coming at 17:03. Michal Plutnar scored the only goal for the Czech’s, as he converted on a power play at 5:47 of the final period. The last US goal was scored by Vince Hinostroza (Notre Dame)on a breakaway at 17:49 of the third period.
Daniel Dolejs made 28 saves for Czech Republic in the losing effort while Jon Gillies (Providence) made 23 saves in the winning effort.
The United States are in Group A with Canada, Slovakia and Germany. Group B features Sweden, Russia, Finland, Norway, and Switzerland. There is a change in the format this year compared to the past. In the last,three of the 5 teams would advance to the medal round with the group winners receiving a bye to the semifinal. This time around, four of the five teams advance to the crossover quarter-finals where one loss means you’re eliminated. The first-place finisher in Pool A plays the fourth-place finisher in Pool B and so on.
US Group Stage Schedule (All times are EST and can be seen on NHL Network):
Dec. 28: vs. Slovakia, 7:30 a.m.
Dec. 29: vs. Germany, 9 a.m.
Dec. 31: vs. Canada, 11:30 a.m.
Jan. 2: Quarterfinal, TBA
Jan. 3: Semifinal, 9 a.m. or 1 p.m.
Jan. 5: Bronze-medal game, 9 a.m., or gold-medal game, 1 p.m.
For hockey fans looking for current or future NHL talent, look no further than some of the international teams. Carolina’s Elias Lindholm and Nashville’s Filip Forsberg play for Sweden while Russia has Mikhail Grigorenko from Buffalo. Grigorenko hasn’t had the best season for the Sabres with 3 points in 18 games, but he’ll be well prepared for the World Juniors. The last time he played against junior-level competition for Quebec he went off for 30-24-54 in 33 games.