UFA – Team USA clinched a playoff berth by soundly thumping the Slovaks today by an 9-3 score. With the win the Americans finish third in Group B and will play in the quarter-finals on January 2. The Slovaks now head to the Relegation Round with Germany.
"As soon as we lost yesterday [2-1 to Canada], the guys really lit a fire under our butts," said forward Vince Trochek. "We knew we had to come in today and there was no chance in anyone's mind that we would lose. We had no doubt we would win the game. We were ready, and we played our hardest."
Trocheck and John Gaudreau had two goals and an assist while Jim Vesey had three assists for the winners. Matus Matis scored two goals for the Slovaks and earned a late misconduct for a shapr word to the referees after incurring a minor penalty.
On paper, today’s game could have been a nightmare for the Americans. A loss would have sent them to the Relegation Round for the second straight year. But, in reality, the game was never close as the U.S. was superior in every department. They also benefitted from weak goaltending from Adam Nagy, who was replaced at the 9:00 mark after surrendering three goals. His replacement, Patrik Romancik, didn’t fare any better.
"Before the game we knew how important it was, obviously," started Alex Galchenyuk. "But after we scored a couple of goals, we didn't feel any pressure. We couldn't get any bounces in our last two games against Russia and Canada, but tonight we did."
The game was over pretty much after the first period. The Americans got on the board early thanks to a breakaway goal from Cole Bardreau at 4:05, and the Slovaks provided a bit of drama by tying the game 14 seconds later thanks to Matus Matis.
But the U.S. went ahead only 51 seconds later and never looked back. Jake McCabe made it 2-1 on a nice backhand, and John Gaudreau made it 3-1 at 9:00. Mike Reilly added another off a faceoff win, and Jacob Trouba banged home a rebound on a power play at 13:50 to make it 5-1.
"We wanted to get the puck in deep, get on their defencemen, and get some greasy goals," said Gaudreau. "All tournament we've had trouble scoring, but tonight we got some greasy goals."
A little drama occurred late in the period when Shayne Gotsisbehere earned a slashing major and game misconduct. The Slovaks got one goal before the end of the period with the five-minute power play, Richard Mraz knocking in a loose puck with goalie John Gibson down And out.
The Americans made it an 8-2 game by the end of the second period. Gaudreau got his second early on and then Vince Trocheck got a pair. The period saw plenty of minor penalties and power plays both ways, but the Slovaks, with two lengthy 5-on-3 chances, couldn’t create much chaos in front of Gibson let alone put the puck in the net.
Matis added his second goal of the game at 9:21 of the third to make it 8-3 while Galchenyuk closed out the scoring with a late goal for the Americans.
The closely-refereed game featured 65 penalty minutes, 37 to the Americans. In all, there were 15 minors (nine to Slovakia), a Slovak misconduct, and a 5+20 to the Americans.