MALMÖ – The United States opened its defence of its 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship title with a convincing 5-1 win over the Czech Republic.
Coach Don Lucia’s team grabbed a 2-0 lead with power play goals 41 seconds apart at the start of the first period, and never looked back.
Last year, the Americans dispatched the Czechs 7-0 in the quarter-finals, and even though there are only three returning U.S. players here in Malmö, the current gap between the two countries at the U20 level was still apparent.
Riley Barber, Will Butcher, Hudson Fasching, Jaccob Slavin and Vince Hinostroza scored for the United States, which just had too much well-organized speed, strength, and skill for the Czechs to counter. And it wasn’t if as coach Miroslav Prerost’s squad wasn’t trying.
"It’s always good to get the cobwebs out and get a convincing win," said Barber. "I thought our team played great."
Defenceman Michal Plutnar had the lone goal for the Czechs.
Goalie Jon Gillies, who played just 20 minutes behind MVP John Gibson in last year’s tournament in Russia, recorded his first World Junior win as a starter. The U.S. outshot the Czechs 33-24.
The Czechs, who are seeking their first medal since 2005’s bronze, got off to a terrible start.
It took just 1:21 for the Americans to open the scoring on the power play. Barber, the American captain, raced down left wing, and let a backhand go from the side boards. Somehow, it squeezed past the right skate of Czech netminder Daniel Dolejs from a bad angle.
To make matters worse, on the same play, Czech captain Petr Sidlik took a high-sticking penalty.
At 2:02, the U.S. showed off its lethal puck movement with another power play goal. Butcher pinched in to convert a perfect cross-ice pass from Jack Eichel past the left post of Dolejs. Eichel, a 1996-born centre from the U.S. National Team Development Program, has reaped comparisons to fellow wunderkind Connor McDavid of Canada.
"It makes things a lot easier when your team’s clicking like that in front of you," said Gillies. "You saw Barbs just throw it to the net and anything can happen. And then a great PP play – a great pass by Jack from the goal line to the back door, and it was easy going from there. We started out well and we carried that through the game."
The Czechs came calling with a couple of good chances from the slot shortly afterwards, but Gillies spread out his 196-cm, 98-kg frame to keep the puck out. He was equally impregnable during a Czech flurry near the midpoint of the game.
The Americans stretched their lead to 3-0 at 9:23 of the second period. Fasching converted the rebound from an Andrew Copp shot off a right wing rush.
At 17:03, it was 4-0 for the U.S. after Dolejs juggled a point shot from Quentin Shore but couldn’t corral it, allowing Slavin to tally from close range.
With Stefan Matteau off for slashing, Plutnar spoiled Gillies' shutout bid with a howitzer from the center point on the power play at 5:47 of the third. It got the Czech bench reenergized, but there was no big comeback in the offing.
Hinostroza rounded out the scoring for the Americans, knifing home a high backhand on a breakaway with 2:11 left.
Canadian fans in attendance directed some jeers toward American forward Adam Erne. In Quebec Major Hockey League action earlier this month, Erne (Quebec Remparts) hit Canada’s Jonathan Drouin (Halifax Mooseheads), who suffered what was described as a mild concussion. Drouin recovered in time to record three assists in Canada’s opening 7-2 triumph over Germany.
On Saturday, the United States faces Slovakia, while the Czechs take on Canada.
Sidlik said: "I think it will probably be similar to facing the USA. Canada will be tough to play. They will go hard at us and they will hit. I think they’ll play harder than the USA. We’ll have to talk to each other. We have to avoid the mistakes we made today."