Matteau named top U.S. player in WJC win over Czechs
The United States National Junior Team received goals from five different players on the way to a workmanlike 5-1 victory over the Czech Republic in the opening game of preliminary-round action in the Group A field at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship on Thursday at the Malmo Isstadion in Malmo, Sweden.
The defending tournament champion, which received goals from captain Riley Barber, Will Butcher, Hudson Fasching, Jaccob Slavin and Vince Hinostroza, will next face Slovakia on Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET (NHLN-US, NHL.com).
Goalie Jon Gillies (Providence College; Calgary Flames) made 23 saves in his first career start at the WJC.
"It says a lot about our team to have five different scorers," Gillies said. "We're clicking and all lines are going. It was a great team win."
Though he didn't need to be spectacular, Gillies made some key saves at key moments in the game. His shutout bid was denied by Czech defenseman Michal Plutnar, who ripped a shot home from between the circles with his team on the power-play 5:47 into the third period. By that time, the U.S. had already built a 4-0 lead.
"I thought we were solid in front of [Gillies]," U.S. coach Don Lucia told NHL.com. "When we make the sure plays out of the neutral zone is when we are at our best. We need to chip pucks by people. When you try to get cute or go one on one, that's when you get into trouble because we're not that type of team."
Gillies served as the backup to John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks) for the gold-medal winning Americans at the 2013 WJC in Ufa, Russia. Gibson was named the tournament's best goalie.
"When you get good goaltending, that's where it all begins and we've had a good run of goaltending for the United States at the world juniors," Lucia said. "Hopefully Gillies will continue that trend for us this year."
After successfully denying the Czech Republic's first power-play attempt with defenseman Connor Carrick off for tripping at 6:48, the United States opened a 3-0 advantage in the second period on a rebound goal by Fasching (University of Minnesota; Los Angeles Kings).
Stefan Matteau (Albany Devils; New Jersey Devils), who was named top player for the United States, led Andrew Copp (University of Michigan; Winnipeg Jets) with a pass in the neutral zone to begin the turn up ice. Copp unleashed a big shot from the top of the right circle that Czech goalie Daniel Dolejs couldn't handle, allowing Fasching to rip home the rebound at 9:23.
In addition to igniting the offense, Copp was also a tower of strength on faceoffs. The alternate captain won 12 of 18 draws (66.6 percent) for the game. Second-line center Jack Eichel, who isn't eligible until the 2015 NHL Draft, won 66.6 percent of his faceoffs (10 of 15) in the game.
"Copp did a great job [on faceoffs]," Lucia said. "We certainly talked about [faceoffs] and we knew we would need someone to take a big draw in the third. But it all starts with possession and being able to win draws was a big factor."
Slavin (Colorado College; Carolina Hurricanes) extended the lead to 4-0 when he knocked in a rebound on the doorstep following an attempt by Quentin Shore (University of Denver; Ottawa Senators) at 17:03 of the second.
The Americans opened a 2-0 lead on a pair of power-play goals 41 seconds apart in the first.
Lucia opted for his energy line of Copp centering Matteau and Fasching to open the game and the trio immediately forced a penalty when Patrik Marcel was whistled for hooking just 31 seconds into the game.
"That line set the tone from the very first shift," Lucia said. "They are hard to handle and they drew the penalty. We started with two power-play goals, something we didn't expect, but took advantage of. The other key was the fact we played well in our end. We knew they would swarm and we had to get the puck out of our corner, so we got on top of pucks and that was very big."
The U.S. took advantage when Barber scored on a bad angle goal from the left wing corner along the end line at 1:21. The U.S. captain took a pass from Matthew Grzelcyk (Boston University; Boston Bruins) and went hard into the corner before releasing a shot that beat Czech Republic goalie Daniel Dolejs just inside the left post.
"He's wearing the 'C' for a reason; he was a key player on the team last year and we only have three returning players who have experienced this tournament," Lucia said. "His goal was big for us in the early stages of this game. It was good to get off to a start like that."
Butcher (University of Denver; Colorado Avalanche) made it 2-0 at 2:02 when he took a feed from Eichel (U.S. U-18 NTDP) in the slot and powered a shot past Dolejs. Dolejs, who earned the start over Marek Langhamer (Phoenix Coyotes), finished with 28 saves.
Hinostroza (University of Notre Dame; Chicago Blackhawks) closed out the scoring off a great backhand shot on a breakaway 17:49 into the third.