Team USA pours over the bench after the final buzzer sounded Saturday in Ufa, Russia. The United States earned gold behind coach and U.S. Olympian Phil Housley.
|John Gaudreau tweeted a picture of his gold medal after the game.
This shared dream dates back to August 2012, in a place that seems more appropriate than any for a hockey dream: Lake Placid, N.Y.
On Saturday in the halfway-around-the-world Russian town of Ufa, a collection of United States teenagers completed their 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship dream by skating around the rink with a championship trophy, courtesy of a 3-1 win over the tournament defending champion Sweden.
“This started back in August,” head coach Phil Housley told NHL Network after the win. “We just got better as a team. They played like champions. They impressed our coaching staff, [and our] training staff. And I think they inspired a nation today.”
Months earlier, a group of 44 hopefuls had arrived in Lake Placid for their summer training camp at the home of the Miracle on Ice. Housley’s request was that they arrived prepared to work. They were, and Housley, a former teenage hockey star himself, left Lake Placid encouraged.
A trimmed roster of 26 wouldn’t meet again until December, for a three-day camp outside New York City from Dec. 16-18, after which they hopscotched to Helsinki, Finland for two exhibition games, then on to Ufa for the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 tournament.
Key to victory?
"I got two ties from my daughter, Taylor, and her boyfriend. Ever since I started wearing [them], we're winning. I've alternated them. But we're bringing home the gold, guys! Thanks for allowing me to be here." - Housley
Clearly, USA Hockey had settled on the right mix of players for what turned out to be a seven-game slate, over which the team went 5-2, winning big when it counted most.
Saturday’s performance marked only Team USA’s third title in World Junior Championship history, with the first coming in 2004 – 2010 Olympians Zach Parise, Ryan Suter and Ryan Kesler starred on that team – and second in 2010, both over archrival Canada.
This time around, Team USA would have to beat Canada in the semifinals, owing to back-to-back Preliminary Round losses – to Russia (2-1, on Dec. 28) and the Canadians (2-1, on Dec. 30). The United States bookended those losses with convincing wins over Germany (8-0, on Dec. 27) and Slovakia (9-3, on Dec. 31).
In time for the Playoff Round, progress was being made as Team USA found higher gears in the New Year. First up, the Czech Republic, which resulted in a 7-0 win to set up the Semifinal Round showdown with Canada.
Housley had been pulling levers with the lineup and his would-be scoring leaders were converting. John Gaudreau, a sharp-shooting, 5-foot-9, 150-pound Boston College forward from Carneys Point, N.J., recorded a hat trick against the Czechs. Defensemen Seth Jones, a 6-4, 205-pounder from Plano, Texas, and Jacob Trouba, 6-2 and 194 pounds from Rochester, Mich., recorded four-point games. Suddenly, Team USA had scored 16 goals in two games.
As a result, the United States entered Thursday’s game confident against the Canadians. And, while most of the world slept though a 4:30 a.m. EST start, the United States beat Canada, 5-1.
Gaudreau scored another two goals, for a total of seven in the tournament, and captain Jake McCabe, from Eau Claire, Wis., also scored twice.
Congrats, via Twitter
Congrats to Team USA for winning the Gold in hockey
Congrats to Phil Housley and @USAhockey on winning the gold medal at World Juniors! #proudtobeanamerican
Congrats to @usahockey! Beat Sweden in the Final at World Junior Hockey Championship in Russia.
Congrats Team USA! #2013WJC Champions! @usahockey
The goaltending was excellent. John Gibson, a big, 6-3, 222-pounder from Pittsburgh, stopped 33 shots, many of which were very dangerous – including a point-blank save on a shot from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 pick in the most recent NHL Entry Draft and the tournament's leading scorer.
“We wanted to dictate the pace of the game early and we were able to do that,” Housley said afterward, referencing the United States’ two first-period goals, which were followed by two more in the second. Housley gave his team a day to savor the win, then move on.
Of course, Team USA would have to come back from its emotional Thursday win to earn gold, which was no easy feat.
An international power at the Under-18 and Under-20 tournaments, Sweden won the 2012 WJC title with a 1-0 win over Russia in Calgary, outshooting its opponent, 58-17, in the process.
On Saturday, Team USA missed on an early opportunity to open the scoring, failing to capitalize on back-to-back Team Sweden penalties that included a 5-on-3 in the first period, then fell in a 1-0 hole merely 1:08 into the second period.
Team USA answered, scoring twice within three minutes, at 7:42 and again at 10:27, both off the stick of Rocco Grimaldi. Not only had Grimaldi, a 5-foot-6 University of North Dakota forward from Rossmoor, Calif., been benched earlier in the tournament, but he’d also hit both posts on a shot earlier in the final.
The 2-1 score held until the waning seconds.
By that time, Sweden had pulled its goalie. Mad scrambles ensued. Pucks ping-ponged around in both zones. And, just as Sweden had gained puck possession in the United States zone with under 30 seconds to play, J.T. Miller, a Rangers draft pick from East Palestine, Ohio, picked off a puck near the blue line.
Vince Trocheck, another Pittsburgh native, sprinted out of the zone and Miller hit him with a pass near center ice. Trocheck, a Panthers draft pick, broke in alone – save for a stick thrown in his direction – and put the puck into an open net.
Team USA’s bench exploded, with players and coaches and trainers popping up and down, hugging and high-fiving and smiling. Tournament honors followed, medals were awarded, the trophy was paraded around the rink, and the national anthem played as the flag was raised to the rafters in Ufa.
“They just bought in to our team game plan,” Housley told NHL Network. “Our hats go off to our leadership group – Seth Jones, [Cornell forward] Cole Bardreau, J.T. Miller, Trouba and our captain, Jake McCabe. They did a terrific job. You need leadership in these types of tournaments and they provided it for us.”
In the coming years, some of these names will become part of USA Hockey’s Olympic conversation – particularly Trouba, who finished with four goals and nine points, and Jones, who finished with seven points and is in the running for the upcoming draft’s No. 1 pick.
Gibson, an Anaheim draft pick whom Housley considered one of the best goaltenders in the field before the tournament, was named the tournament’s top goaltender.
“He had so many tremendous saves,” Jones told NHL Network. “They're called momentum saves. He's the reason we won.”
Trouba, a Winnipeg first-rounder, was named the tournament’s top defenseman (Nugent-Hopkins was named top forward). Gibson, who finished seven games with a sparkling .955 save percentage, Trouba, McCabe and Gaudreau were also named to the tournament’s all-star team. Every skater on the team recorded a point, and a total of 15 players scored goals for a team that showed remarkable depth. And an organization – led by a host of staffers with Olympic ties, including two-time Olympian Jim Johannson (general manager), former Olympic head coach Tim Taylor (director of player personnel), and 2002 Olympian Housley – that picked a team to remind the world of the United States' hockey capabilities.
In all, the 2013 WJC could barely have been sweeter. After a bitterly disappointing seventh-place finish at the 2012 edition, Team USA players went to Lake Placid this past summer with gold on their minds. On Saturday, they finished with gold around their necks.