Anders Bjork's last minute heroics propelled the USNTDP past the Jersey Hitmen of the USPHL's Premier League Saturday afternoon.
The USNTDP got off to a flying start and dominated play early, but Hitmen netminder Mackenzie Sawyerwas brilliant and kept the game close. The Hitmen managed to even things up, even leading in shots on goal by the end of the first period, but a penalty shot was awarded to Ohio State-committed Dylan Pavelek, who fired it high glove to give the national team a 1-0 lead with less than a minute remaining in the first.
Edwin Minney was forced to step his game up in the second, as the Hitmen came storming in at him early and often. Tensions arose as both teams got great chances but couldn't finish. The physical play was taken to another level throughout the period, as the passion and toughness of these two clubs came out.
The final frame continued where the second left off with end to end action and physicality from both squads. Mackenzie Sawyer made a huge save on a 2-on-1 chance that came off Long Island native Ryan Hitchcock's stick to keep the game close, and just a few minutes later the Hitmen came back with a chance of their own. Conor O'Neil beat his defender and put a puck on net that was seemingly covered by Minney, but Luke Veitch stuffed the rebound into the net.
Just 45 seconds later, the superbly talented Jack Eichel found a rebound off of Alex Tuch's shot and threw the puck past Sawyer, giving the NTDP it's second lead. Eichel is viewed as a definite top 5 pick in the 2015 NHL draft, with many projecting him to go as high as second overall. Eichel and Tuch both have played against the Hitmen organization before, as Eichel was previously with the Jr. Bruins and Tuch played for the Syracuse Stars.
Dominic Trento's great skating beat an icing call with just 3:09 remaining in the game, and his quick thinking to throw the puck into the slot paid off as Pat Schule propelled it beautifully past Minney. However, the USNTDP once again had a quick response, and with just over two minutes to go Anders Bjork scored the game winner top shelf off a quality toe-drag.
Despite the loss, there are a lot of positives to take from the game if you're Toby Harris' Hitmen. Playing against an elite talent like Jack Eichel who can distribute and shoot as well as he does is never an easy task, and they managed to keep him quiet for most of the game. Jersey dominated stretches of play, and were very rarely being outplayed at all. The two teams were so evenly matched it was honestly a shame one had to lose.
No time to rest for the Hitmen, as they take to the ice tomorrow afternoon against the Jr. Bruins. That game is a matchup between between the 1st place and 3rd place teams in the USPHL-Premier, and is my FastHockey.com game to watch.
Players to Watch: Jack Eichel, Conor O'Neil
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