Team USA took gold in a five-nation tournament in the Czech Republic after edging the last game of the event against Finland.
Both nations went into the showdown on the back of three straight victories and as the game went into the closing minutes they were locked at 2-2 in Kravare. Then Trevor Zegras produced the winning goal with barely three minutes on the clock to settle the outcome of both game and tournament when he shot home a Domenick Fensore feed.
The free-scoring Americans had potted 21 goals in their three earlier games and looked set to continue in that vein after dominating the opening stanza. Outshooting Finland 23-3, Team USA jumped to a 2-0 lead on tallies from Cole Caufield and Matt Boldy. An assist from team captain Jack Hughes took him to 6+10=16 points for the competition, making him the leading scorer in the Czech Republic. Caufield moved on to seven goals, also a tournament high.
However, Finland hit back. Jusso Parssinen halved the deficit with a power-play goal in the second period before Kasper Simontaival tied it up right at the start of the third. But the late winner from Zegras gave the USA the verdict and maintained this age-group’s winning streak. Last season, as u17s, the team won all 14 of its games; here, that run extended to 18.
Second-placed Finland began its campaign with an impressive 9-3 win over Switzerland and also enjoyed victory over Sweden (4-1) and the Czechs (4-3). The host nation topped Sweden 4-2 on Sunday to take third place while the Swiss suffered a difficult campaign and came in last with a goal difference of 5-30.
The Czechs had the best three scores behind Hughes: Michal Teply (4+10), Marcel Barinka (5+7) and Radek Muzik (6+5). Finnish goaltender Roope Taponen led the goalies in save percentage with 93.1% saved shots in his three games followed by USA’s Spencer Knight (92.5%).
Belarus undefeated in Slovakia
Belarus came out on top in Slovakia with a 5-1 victory over the host nation in Saturday’s decisive game in Michalovce. Two goals from Sergei Kuznetsov put the Belarusians in charge in that one and took the forward to the top of the tournament scoring chart with 5 (3+2) points from three games. A pair of quick power-play goals late in the second period ensured there was no way back for Slovakia and Yevgeni Yesaulov’s team finished the tournament with a 14-4 goal difference.
For Belarus it was a strong tournament and good omen as the country will play in the U18 Worlds’ top division for the third consecutive year. While having some of the best scorers, 16-year-old Danil Veremeichik shone in the net with a tournament-best 93.75% save percentage.
Slovakia took second place thanks to one-goal wins over Denmark and Germany. The Germans came third after winning 5-1 against the Danes in Saturday’s other game.
Hungary wins neighbourhood clashes
In Jesenice Hungary recovered from an overtime loss in its opening game against host Slovenia to win the Four Nations tournament. The host nation began by downing the Magyars after Zan Primozic snapped a 3-3 tie to win it in the extras on Thursday evening.
The Hungarians had led 3-0 in that one before allowing the host back into the game and they clearly learned from the experience. The following day goalie Beni Halasz blanked Austria in a 4-0 victory, then Ferenc Kozma’s 1+2 against Italy led the team to a 5-2 success and top spot in the competition. Italy’s Yuri Christellon finished as the tournament’s top scorer with 3+2. He also tied for the leading goalscorer with Austria’s Oskar Maier.
Latvia and Norway played a three-game series in Ozolnieki. The host won the first two games, claiming 3-1 and 6-3 victories. Norway recovered to take the third game 3-2.
Poland’s youngsters went to Slovakia for two exhibition games against club teams. The first game, against HK SKP in Poprad, ended in a 5-1 victory but the Poles suffered a 0-5 loss at Dukla Trencin on Friday.
*PHOTO COURTESY OF: STEVE KINGSMAN / HHOF-IIHF IMAGES
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