U.S. wins, Slovakia up in QF
by Andrew Podnieks|01 JUN 2021
Team USA’s Kevin Labanc #62 celebrates with Colin Blackwell #43 and Matty Beniers #10 after scoring a first-period goal against Italy.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
The U.S. scored three goals in the opening period en route to a 4-2 win over Italy in the final game of the preliminary round for both teams. The win vaults the Americans over Finland into first place in Group B and sets up a quarter-finals date with Slovakia on Thursday.

It was the sixth straight win for the Americans after a tight, opening-game loss to Finland, 2-1.

"It's the expectation every time you play for USA," said Kevin Labanc, who scored twice for the winners. "I came here not knowing anybody, but now they're all my brothers, and it's a lot of fun. To be in the position we're in, we're proud. We're going to be sure to take it to whoever we play."

For winless Italy, next up is Olympic qualifying, which will be right here in Riga in late August. The Abruzzi will be playing against host Latvia, France, and Hungary for a place in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

"We’re excited," said Matt Foy, "but we need to come out with much better effort in the next game. It’s going to be tough from here on out. We’re going to play a lot of hard teams, but we’re excited, and we’re happy to have that number-one slot."

Jake Oettinger won the game and extended his IIHF perfect record. He is now 3-0 in World Championship play, 2-0 at the World Juniors, and 4-0 at U18, and remains the only undefeated goalie ever who has at least one win in each of these tournaments.

He faced only 11 shots all game while Davide Fadani had 43 shots to contend with.

"It's a sprint of a tournament," added Brian Boyle, who wore the "C" today in the absence of injured Justin Abdelkader. "But there are a lot of variables, and today with the seedings and who's going to get in. It's high intensity. Managing your rest and control what you can is important. It's a lot of hockey in a short period, but it's the same for everybody."
Italy vs United States - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship
ITA USA 01 JUN 2021
The U.S. got on the board at 6:54 on Labanc’s first of two goals, and it came on a sensational play by defenceman Ryan Shea, who was playing in his first game. Alex Petan lofted a high backhand out of his end to centre, but Shea batted the puck ahead to Labanc who went in alone and rifled a shot past Davide Fadani.

"We've been playing a lot of ping pong, so that's why he was able to do that!" Labanc joked afterwards "It was a great play by him, and I saw an opening and took a shot. It was the first one of the game, so it felt nice."

Moments earlier, Fadani had made possibly the save of the tournament, getting his stick on a Zac Jones shot while diving behind to cover a wide-open net. As U.S. players on the bench watched the replay on the scoreboard, they shook their heads in amazement.

"It doesn’t happen every game," Fadani smiled, "but it’s good that it happened in a game like this."

Four minutes later, Labanc made it 2-0 when he was the recipient of another great pass, this time from Matty Beniers from the corner boards. Labanc had a clear shot on goal and ripped a wrister over the glove of Fadani.

Then, with only 16 seconds remaining, Conor Garland made it 3-0. He took a pass from Jason Robertson, and waited patiently as Fadani over-committed to the shot before sliding the puck into the open net.

Italy got on the board early in the second off the rush. Luca Frigo dashed down the left wing and snapped a shot under the pad of Oettinger at 1:01 to make it a 3-1 game. Midway through the period, though, Conor Garland restored the U.S.’s three-goal lead. He claimed the puck after Alex Trivellato bobbled the puck as last man back, and then Garland deked Fadani into next week before tucking the puck in the short side.

There were so few whistles in the middle period that it was played without a single TV timeout, perhaps a modern-day first.

Stefano Giliati made it a 4-2 game early in the third during a four-on-four. He roared down the right side with Garland in pursuit, spun, and fired a low shot that beat Oettinger between the legs. It was Giliati's first goal of the tournament.

"It was difficult for us, especially at training camp," explained Frigo. "We started with some cases on the first day but we battled hard and I’m very proud, especially of the young guys. They came for the first time and they battled through all this. For August hopefully we’re going to have a better camp and come here with the goal to make the Olympics. It was very important for us to compete against these great players. We all think we did a good job, staying to the system, growing as a team, and we’re going to look forward for the next tournament."
Italy vs United States - 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship