International Ice Hockey Federation

USA aims for double

USA aims for double

Intriguing medal contests at U18 Worlds

Published 26.04.2015 11:43 GMT+2 | Author Adam Steiss
USA aims for double
The United States defeated Finland 3-1 in the last U18 gold medal game matchup between the two teams in 2006.
The United States and Finland will drop the puck in a few hours’ time, preceded by a bronze medal tilt between Canada and U18 tournament hosts Switzerland.

For Team USA, it’s a chance to add another trophy, and the second in a row,  to what is an unequaled legacy of success at the IIHF U18 World Championship. The 2015 U.S. team has been on fire since its opening game loss to Russia. In all the team has potted an incredible 44 goals in total at this year’s U18s, 16 more than the next highest scoring team Canada.

"Tomorrow we have a chance to do what we came here for - win gold. We were last in the finals nine years ago and this is a big thing. We've been together now as a team for several weeks with our eyes on exactly this game. It will be a great day tomorrow", explained Finland's head coach Mika Marttila.

Standing in the way of the States’ ninth U18 title is Finland. Since winning the first two U18 World Championship tournaments in 1999 and 2000, the country has only made it to the gold medal game once, earning a silver medal back in 2006.

But the Finns have looked good this year, and have talent and skill from the net out. The key to victory will be to shut down the powerful USA attack, something only Russia has been able to do thanks to an incredible performance in net from Ilya Samsonov. It’ll be up to Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen, who will need to be at his best if his team is to have a chance. Vehvilainen currently boast the tournament’s second best save percentage (94.15) and second-lowest goals-against-average at 1.65.

Finland’s offensive engine is fueled by three players: Patrik Laine, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Alesksi Saarela. Saarela was the overtime hero yesterday scoring the game winner against Finland, and linemates Puljujarvi and Laine have combined for 18 points in six games. On the blue line, defenceman Villi Saarijarvi has scored nine points and is second on the team in shots.

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However behind the team’s top four the point production drops off significantly. The top-ranked USA defence will be focused on stopping players like Laine and Puljujarvi, so the team will need to coax a great game out of role players like Jonne Tamella and Petrus Palmu to keep pace with the Americans.

At the other end of the ice, a daunting challenge awaits. The Finns will have to deal with tournament leading scorer Auston Matthews, who’s scored eight goals and six assists and has looked every bit the top hockey prospect he was projected to be ahead of the start of the 2015 U18s.

The scoring depth behind Matthews also can’t be ignored. Four other Americans are in the top ten in scoring, including Jeremy Bracco, Matthew Tkachuk, and Clayton Keller. It’s a lot for the opposing teams to handle, especially given the fact that these players have been competing alongside one another for the entire season in the US National Team Development Program.

Getting past the forwards is one thing, the Finns most of all need to get shots on net against goaltender Even Sarthou, who has been lights out the past few games and has the tournament’s lowest GAA at 1.25. It won’t be easy, the United States looked like a well-oiled machine as they blew away any chance at a comeback by the Canadians last night by scoring five goals in the third period. It’ll take a perfect game by Martilla’s squad to earn the country’s first gold medal in 15 years.

In the bronze medal game, Canada will be looking put the crushing 7-2 loss to the Americans behind it and earn its fourth straight U18 medal. But the Swiss team that it will be facing on Sunday is not the same squad that the Canadians dispatched 4-1 in the preliminary round. Switzerland has turned things up at the right time, surpassing its goal count from the first four games of the tournament in just two playoff games against Russia and Finland, and was only an overtime goal away from being in the gold medal game.

"The way the boys fought back from a 4-2 deficit and sent this thing to overtime, it was a huge show of character,” explained coach Manuele Celio after the semi-final game. “In sports, you don't always get what you deserve. Now we need to put this away and get ready for the game tomorrow. Had someone said before the tournament that we'd be playing Canada for the bronze medal, you'd have to have said 'I can't believe it', so we have to bounce back and give it our all"

The bronze medal game kicks off on Sunday afternoon at 15:00 GMT+2, while The United States and Finland will battle for the gold at 19:00 GMT+2.



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