The 2017 IIHF Men’s Ice Hockey World Championship did not start auspiciously for Team USA; a 2-1 upset loss to Germany put the U.S. men immediately on their heels.
But less than two weeks later, the U.S. stands atop Group A, clinching the top seed into the quarterfinal round after reeling off six consecutive wins.
After falling to Germany, the climb back in the standings began against Denmark. While the score remained marginally close into the second period, Team USA poured on in the closing minutes of that period to win 7-2 behind a Clayton Keller hat trick.
Sweden proved to be a tougher task the following day. After overcoming a one-goal deficit three separate times, J.T. Compher netted the game-winner with 8:13 to play, giving the U.S. a 4-3 win. Next came Italy, which only mustered nine shots on goalie Jimmy Howard; Team USA won 3-0, with Brock Nelson tallying two goals.
The U.S. ran into some problems against Latvia, who led 2-0 and 3-1. But goals by Nick Bjugstad, Johnny Gaudreau and Andrew Copp put the U.S. in front, and Dylan Larkin buried an empty-netter to clinch the 5-3 win.
“We certainly didn’t have the start we wanted,” head coach Jeff Blashill told USA Hockey after the game. “Our guys stayed with it though and didn’t panic.”
A 6-1 win over Slovakia clinched Team USA a quarterfinal berth, with Howard making 19 saves and Gaudreau netting two goals and an assist to pace the offense.
The most highly-anticipated contest closed out group play as the U.S. took on an undefeated Russian squad to determine seeding in the quarterfinal round. Despite outshooting Russia 16-3 in the first period, Russia opened the scoring and led 1-0 going into the second. Kevin Hayes, who, along with Brady Skjei, was added to the roster after the New York Rangers were eliminated from the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, tied things up a minute into the second frame, but Russia pulled ahead again just minutes later. Larkin pulled things even at two goals apiece with 7:42 remaining in the period before Russia regained its lead at the 3:45 mark. Hayes netted the third equalizer of the period just 1:28 later, and that score would stand for most of the third period. It wasn’t until Anders Lee tipped in a feed from Gaudreau with 7:03 remaining that the U.S. took its first lead, and Nelson sealed the victory with an empty-net goal with :22 left on the clock.
“I thought it was a really good hockey game,” Blashill told USA Hockey. “The crowd was unreal. The Russian fans are great and it made for an awesome atmosphere. I’m really impressed with our group. They’re a selfless bunch and I thought we took a step forward tonight.”
The 5-3 win gave Team USA the top seed in Group A. The U.S. will play Finland, the fourth-place team from Group B, in the quarterfinals on Thursday.