USA’s 4-2 win against Canada in its opening game of the World Junior Championships means absolutely nothing and everything at the same time.
While the preliminary-round win doesn’t put the Americans closer to a medal, it bolsters the team’s confidence and serves notice that the Americans have the talent necessary to win it all in the tournament that boasts the world’s best under-20 players.
“The game against Canada is the one that means the most to American players,” U.S. Coach Ron Wilson told USA Today Sports via cell phone from Helsinki, Finland. “We won this game, and it least gives us a boost in our step the next couple of days.”.
The Americans had only won seven of the previous 42 games against Canada in WJC competition. They hadn’t defeated Canada in a preliminary-round game since 1998.
All eyes on USA’s Auston Matthews at world juniors.
“This was a good learning experience for us,” said Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Zach Werenski, USA’s captain, via cell phone. “But we have to forget about it and get back to work because Sweden (on Monday) will be just as tough.”.
Werenski, considered a premium two-way defensive prospect, gave USA a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal at 7:22 of the third period. But Canada came back to tie 3 minutes, 23 seconds later on a goal by Dylan Strome, the Arizona Coyotes’ first-round pick in 2015.
Traditionally, Canada has dominated the Americans by taking advantage of situations like they had in this game. Traditionally, they seize momentum in those situations.
But this year, it was the Americans who found the momentum with Minnesota Wild prospect Louis Belpedio and Auston Matthews scoring to provide the margin of victory.
Matthews, an Arizonan playing in the Swiss professional league, also added an assist. He is projected to be the top player selected in the 2016 NHL draft.
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“I have to give kudos to our defensemen,” Wilson said. “In the first period, we were a little sloppy. We didn’t advance the puck as much as I wanted. But in the second and third period we didn’t spend any time in our end. We didn’t turn it over and got it going north quickly. Our forwards were a lot more reliable in the second and third period.”.
The Americans lost top-line forward Alex DeBrincat in the first period to a major penalty for spearing. “That was a huge kill for us,” Wilson said.
“To see all of the guys rally was unbelievable to see,” Werenski said.
Ottawa Senators prospect Colin White, a Boston College freshman, scored USA’s other goal.
Carolina Hurricanes prospect goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic made 25 saves and looked like a formidable presence when the Canadians drove the net.
“Without him, I don’t know what the score would have been,” Werenski said. “He made key saves and huge saves.”.