Ed Willes: Waving red, white and Hughes as USA aims to claim hockey gold Saturday
Washington (USA) Jan 5: Friday afternoon at Rogers Arena, the United States punched their ticket to Saturday night's gold-medal game at the World Junior Championship with a disciplined, workmanlike effort against a powerful Russian side.
If the scriptwriters get the rest of the movie right, there will be many more games like this for Quinn Hughes; games when he owns Rogers Arena, games when he owns this province.
But this one, when he was wearing the colours of his country, when he was playing with his younger brother Jack, he'll always remember this game.
The Team USA defenceman and Canucks' first-round pick from 2017 said after: "It's really special, not only having my brother here but being in Vancouver. It's pretty cool. I've been looking forward to this for a long time. Hopefully we can win the gold medal."
And now, after surviving a street fight with the Russians, they have that chance.
Friday afternoon at Rogers Arena, the United States punched their ticket to Saturday night's gold-medal game at the World Junior Championship with a disciplined, workmanlike effort against a powerful Russian side.
In the other semifinal, Finland scored four times in the first eight minutes before cruising to a 6-1 win over the Cinderella Swiss team. The Finns face the Americans in Saturday's gold-medal showdown.
Team USA's 2-1 win wasn't particularly artful but it was rooted in the details of team play, a standout performance from goalie Cayden Primeau and, truth be told, a couple of bounces around either net. They weren't always convincing and there were more than a few nervous moments along the way.
But after, the young Americans weren't particularly interested in dissecting their win. Their thoughts were on the golden game and the moment of their lives.
"It's unbelievable," Quinn Hughes said. "We weren't able to do it last year (when they were knocked out in the semifinals by Sweden in Buffalo, N.Y.). Our goal was to win a gold medal in this tournament and we're halfway there."
OK, maybe the math needs some work, but you know what he means.
"It's awesome, a dream come true to be here with these guys," said American centre Jack Hughes, Quinn's brother and the top-rated player in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. "We're Americans. We play hard and we play gritty. That kind of got us through this game."
Well that, Primeau and the whims of the hockey gods.
Through the semifinal's first 30 minutes, the U.S. built a 2-0 lead on goals by Oliver Wahlstrom and Sasha Chmelevski and a smothering team defence that kept the Russians out of the danger areas. With 6 1/2 minutes to go in the middle frame, however, they mismanaged the puck for one of only a few times, springing loose Russian sniper Grigori Denisenko, who fired a laser over Primeau's shoulder.
And suddenly, things weren't quite as comfortable for the Americans.
They would survive intense Russian pressure over the final minutes of the second period, before the contest's key sequence unfolded early in the third on a Russian power play.
First, Vitali Kravtsov's wrister found a hole through Primeau, sending the puck dancing along the goal-line before American defenceman Phil Kemp cleared it to safety. Seconds later Primeau made a five-alarm save off Kravtsov.
"They had some momentum and they came after us hard on that power play," said Kemp. "We needed a kill there."
Quinn Hughes was asked if that sequence calmed down the Americans.
"I don't think it calmed us down," said the University of Michigan blue-liner. "If anything it ramped us up. We're like, 'Oh my God, They almost scored eight times there.' I don't think anyone was feeling calm on the bench. We just knew we had to push back."
Still, something happened to the Americans after that scare, because they nursed the one-goal lead home with a minimum of duress. It helped that Primeau, the son of former NHLer Keith, stopped all 15 shots over the final 20 minutes.
It also helped that the Russians mangled the final two minutes, failing to get goalie Pyotr Kochetkov out for an extra attacker until there were 38 seconds left.
"Just keep it simple," Kemp said of his team's approach in the third. "The glass is our friend and that's not a bad play in that situation. No one cares if it's an ugly play. We just have to make the right play."
"Whether it was blocking shots or whatever we needed to do," said American winger Tyler Madden, the Canucks' third-rounder from this summer who had another strong game. "We all bought in."
The Americans also benefited from a nullified goal in the first period when it was ruled Nikita Shashkov intentionally deflected Dmitri Samorukov's slap pass into the net. The IIHF changed the rule recently to distinguish between intentional, illegal and accidental, legal deflections. Of course they did.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, Quinn Hughes didn't have his strongest game of the tournament. There were a few nervous moments with the puck and he wasn't the offensive driver he'd been in other games.
But, like his teammates, he'd moved on from his performance when he met with the media after the Americans' win. Seems like something else was on his mind.
"It wasn't my A game but it was good enough," he said. "I don't think I need to be wearing a cape out there. Whatever it takes to win a gold medal. That's what my mindset was."
One he shares with 22 of his pals.
Source: The Province