HELSINKI – It’s been nine years since Team USA returned from a World Championship tournament in Europe with a medal, and they’ve only made it to the top four just three times in the last fifteen years. But they’re in top-four now, and after an impressive 8-3 win over Russia, they are also a gold medal contender.
Last year, Team USA lost their quarter-final game to Finland, the hosts of the final four games of the tournament, so this year, the team came into the tournament determined to get past that hurdle.
“I think we wanted to get to Sweden. To me, the quarter-final game was always the most important. To forget about the way we played against Slovakia [in a 4-1 loss] and play like we did today was great for our team,” team captain Paul Stastny said.
Not only did the U.S. beat Russia, they also delivered last year’s world champions the worst loss of their World Championship history. Never before had Russia - or the mighty Soviet Union team - let in eight goals in a World Championship game, and only once had they lost a Worlds game by five goals.
“If you’d told us that this morning, we’d have started laughing. We’ve lost by eight goals sometimes, and sometimes it’s nice to be on the team that scores eight goals. What comes around goes around sometimes,” Stastny said.
“It’s great, but we were very fortunate to score that many. They’re a great team. I think we caught them off-guard a bit,” added T.J. Oshie.
Off-guard or not, scoring eight goal against Russia is impressive. The game was 4-2 early in the second period, with Alexander Ovechkin & Co. pushing hard to get within a goal, and get a chance to tie the game before the end of the third period. But the young Americans kept their cool, and instead, scored 5-2 while shorthanded.
“I think we easily could have pressed the panic button there when they scored right away in the third period. But to get the next one and make it 5-2, I think, settled the fellows a little bit. It changed things in our favour again,” said Ryan Carter, who scored that important goal.
“We expected to win this game. It’s another feather in our cap. But we want to roll forward. We’re a confident group. We think we can win a medal, and we want to win the gold medal. This is just a stepping stone,” he added.
Of course, when you score eight goals in a game, you’ll win a lot of games, but the U.S. also had something else the Russians didn’t have tonight. They had solid goaltending, provided by the 19-year-old John Gibson, who’s spent most of the season in the Ontario Hockey League, and had played just one AHL game - none in the NHL - before Thursday’s start against Russia.
His save percentage after his two starts in the tournament was 98.4, and while he did let in three goals in the quarter-final, his save percentage in the game was a respectable 91.2.
“He’s been unbelievable. He’s calm. He plays a steady game. I don’t think he cares who he’s playing. He’s always going to play a steady game. That’s why we have the utmost confidence in playing a 19-year-old in, so far, the biggest game of the tourney for us,” said Stastny.
The unflappable young goalie was low-key even after the win.
“I just took it like every other game: just go out there, have fun, play your game. You’ve just got to be ready for the next shot. I mean, it seemed we responded well. That obviously helps with the confidence,” he said.
“I was excited. Obviously, you want to play every game possible. It’s obviously a lot better [compared to World Juniors]. You’re playing against some of the best players in the world,” he added.
Paul Stastny scored two and added two assists in the quarter-final and is now tied with Ilya Kovalchuk for lead in tournament scoring, with 13 points in eight games. His linemate Craig Smith picked up five assists, but Team USA also got goals from five players who hadn’t yet scored in the tournament: Oshie, Carter, Alex Galchenyuk, Jacob Trouba, and Nate Thompson.
“We have some gamers on our team, if you want to call it that. Guys step up in big games. Obviously, five guys had their first goals, and that’s huge. To have scoring all the way through the lineup is huge,” said Justin Faulk.
Team USA will play their semi-final against Switzerland. The Americans know they haven’t won anything yet, and their focus is just in the here and now.
“I think we’ll know how to handle ourselves going over to Sweden. I can tell you one thing: we’re pretty excited to get over there. I don’t know what the days are here. I don’t know if it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or whatever. Then I found out it was Thursday. We’re excited and I think we’ll be ready to go,” said Justin Faulk.