LAPPEENRANTA – The United States’ National Under-18 Team will add an eighth U18 World Championship to its trophy cabinet, as the Americans blew past the Czech Republic on their way to a gold medal victory at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.Click here for scores, stats, and photos
Click here for the post-game video
The gold medal adds more luster to a development system that has grown into a dominant force at this tournament. Since finishing seventh, eighth, and sixth at the first three U18 Worlds, the United States has won a medal in all but one of the last 13 U18 World Championships, including an incredible five gold medals in the last six tournaments.
“We were able to get a quick start right away and get up 3-0,” said captain Louis Belpedio. “A lot of emotions, two years together and to hear that final horn at the end is obviously exciting and I’m glad I was able to do it with the guys on this team.”
And for coach Cole Danton, an emotional win for a program that lost on of its own a year ago.
"After the game I mentioned how proud of them i was and all the work that they put in and that they earned it the right way," said Cole.
“We also mentioned coach Tim Taylor, this was the last age group he worked with, and he died a year ago today. I wanted to get through this for him, every time I go to an international tournament I think of him and I miss him and since this is the last group he worked with it’s special to us and to USA hockey.”
For the Czechs, they can hold their heads high despite losing the chance to cap an amazing and unprecedented success in the 2014 tournament with a miracle upset. They will finish with silver, the first time the team has ever finished so high in this tournament.
Czech goaltender Vitek Vanecek was tested almost immediately at the outset of the game with a breakaway shot by Ryan Hitchcock. Vanecek made the save on that chance, but soon after a shot from the blue line by defenceman Jack Dougherty found the back of the net for the U.S.’s first goal of the game.
Then at 13:05 Austen Matthews jumped on a rebound in front of the Czech net to go up 2-0. Then before the Czechs could catch a breath they were down three goals, when less than a minute later during another scramble in front of their net the puck came to Frank Milano for the 3-0 score.
Czech coach Jakub Peter called a timeout to try and calm his team down, and with 33 seconds left the Czechs got on the board when Jiri Smejkal mopped up on a shot from Radek Vesely following a two-on-one rush.
Early in the second period a giveaway in the neutral zone by the Czechs sent the puck down to their own zone. Frank Milano got to it first and made a no-look backhand pass in front of the net to an oncoming Dylan Larkin for the 4-1 lead, and then Matthews scored his second of the game, assisted by Brandon Fortunato.
A shot from near the blue line that found its way through allowed the Czechs to cut the lead down to three goals with 6:40 left in the second period, courtesy of semi-final overtime hero David Kase.
But the Americans, who have built a reputation at the U18 tournament as a tough defensive team, shut down the Czech Republic offence all the way to the final whistle.
Milano finished with a goal and two assists, earning him the Best Player nod for Team USA.
“Feels great, probably the best feeling ever in my life,” said Milano. “We lost to Switzerland in the first game and that was kind of a wakeup call for us, and we knew that every team was going to bring its A-game so we need to do so as well, and now we got a gold medal. I plan on spending the rest of my life with this gold around my neck (laughs).”
The victory was especially sweet for forward Jack Eichel, who after missing out on a gold medal in the loss to Canada last year got his second U18 gold in three years in his last season of eligibility.
“It’s hard to put in words right now, but it’s the best feeling ever,” said Eichel. “We’ve gone through so much stuff in the last two years and it’s all for this tournament, to win and cap it off in this tournament is the best thing ever.”
For the entire team and the USA program, it is another feather in the cap for a country that is a true dynasty at the junior hockey level.