Even without superstar prospect Jack Hughes, the U.S. easily disposed of Kazakhstan on Friday night with an 8-2 victory in Victoria. Shots were 66-13 for the Americans.
"I think we’re going in the right direction," said Ryan Poehling. "We’ve played two games and I think we’ve played well. But we’ve got to continue to grow. It’s a long tournament and you can’t be satisfied with anything until the end of the day."
Jack Hughes, the presumptive #1 overall pick for the 2019 NHL Draft, was scratched for precautionary reasons. Team officials said Hughes was day-to-day. Fortunately, the MVP of the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship in Russia wasn't missed too much, since his linemates from that silver-medal U.S. squad filled in dominantly. As did the rest of the Stars and Stripes gang.
Joel Farabee scored a first-period natural hat trick in 6:52 to pace the Americans, and Oliver Wahlstrom, Hughes' other linemate in Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk, got the opening goal. Jason Robertson assisted on all three Farabee goals. Poehling stepped up with a goal and two assists. Alexander Chmelevski, Tyler Madden and Josh Norris added singles.
"Scoring a hat trick is definitely nice, but I’ve got to give it to my linemates and the D getting the puck up," Farabee said. "We created a lot of turnovers, which gave me those chances."
Andrei Buyalski and Dmitri Mitenkov replied for the newly promoted Kazakhs, who have lost two straight.
U.S. goalie Cayden Primeau got his first World Junior start from coach Mike Hastings and was steady, although rarely tested, in the U.S.'s second straight win.
The Americans are gunning for their fourth World Junior medal in a row after winning bronze in 2016, gold in 2017, and bronze in 2018. Their offence came to life after a slow start with a 2-1 victory over Slovakia on Boxing Day. Against Kazakhstan, the power play went 2-for-7.Poehling liked the volume of shots his team generated: "It’s always a great sign. It shows that you’re playing well as a team. I think that’s what we did all night. We trusted, not just in the five guys out there, but the team that’s coming out. We had a lot of times when we were in their offensive zone and we had great changes."
It wasn’t quite as lopsided as the last time these two countries met. At the 2009 World Juniors in Ottawa, the U.S. hammered Kazakhstan 12-0 with a pair of goals from Colin Wilson and three-point outings from James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Kazakhstan’s goal is to survive to the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic (Ostrava and Trinec). However, after getting blanked 5-0 by Finland and suffering this defeat, it will be a major challenge.
The Americans drew first blood at 1:37 off a faceoff in the Kazakh end. Poehling won the draw and got it back to Wahlstrom, who zinged it high past Nurek.
Just 18 seconds later, Kazakhstan knotted the score. Sprung by assistant captain Valeri Orekhov, Buyalski eluded the U.S. defence on a breakaway and slid one through Primeau. For the first time at these World Juniors, the former Soviet republic's goal song was played – Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” – and the pro-underdog Victoria crowd of 6,185 belted it out.
Of Primeau's debut, Poehling said: "We kind of left him hanging on that breakaway right away, but he settled in great. I thought he did a great job tonight."
The U.S. retook the lead at 5:13 on the power play. Farabee beat Nurek from the left faceoff circle, similar to Wahlstrom, taking a Robertson feed and shooting high.
Kazakh coach Sergei Starygin shook things up, replacing Nurek with Demid Yeremeyev, who became the darling of the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre crowd with his 51-save performance against Finland.
However, that didn’t hold back the rising U.S. tide. Farabee promptly notched his second goal at 8:53, swooping in to finish off a line rush with a backhander underneath Yeremeyev.
Farabee completed his natural hat trick at 12:05. Unchecked in front of Yeremeyev, he coolly deked and slid the puck past the goalie’s left skate. It was impressive, but not the fastest three goals by a player in World Junior history. The record belongs to Russia’s Oleg Kvasha who scored a hat trick against (wait for it) Kazakhstan in 4:01 on 25 December 1997.
At 5:46 of the second period, Chmelevski hustled to the front of the net to finish off a power-play set-up from Poehling. Just over five minutes later, Poehling powered around Orekhov on a shorthanded rush and slid the puck home for a 6-1 lead.
Shortly afterwards, Madden circled the Kazakh net and popped one over Yeremeyev's left shoulder from an impossible angle. The referee initially waved the goal off as play went on. However, video review confirmed the U.S. had its seventh goal at 12:11.
"I knew it went in off the bat," Madden said. "I tried to signal that it was in and nobody listened to me. So I just kept playing and I was like, as soon as this whistle goes, they’d better go take a look at that, because I knew it hit the back of the net."
The goaltending carousel continued, with Nurek replacing Yeremeyev again. However, it was far too late for a momentum shift.
In the final period, Josh Norris made it 8-1 just 23 seconds in. Then Mitenkov gave the crowd reason to rejoice again when he banged in a rebound at 9:56. The Snezhnye Barsy Astana forward proudly tugged on his national crest, a reminder that it's a big deal for Kazakhstan – a country with 39 indoor rinks and 5,868 junior players – to be back in the elite division.
Wahlstrom didn't mind the Canadian fans cheering for his opponents: "I think it’s motivating to have a lot of people boo us and stuff. I think it’s fun."
Play got chippy in the dying stages as both teams threw their weight around.
Next, the U.S. will try to snap Sweden’s 46-game preliminary-round winning streak at this tournament when the two powerhouses clash on Saturday. Winless Kazakhstan has a big date with Slovakia on Sunday.
"It’s definitely going to be a bit more skill, a little tougher game," Farabee said. "We definitely want to end their streak in the prelims, so I think we’ll be throwing the kitchen sink at them."