The USA started this tournament strong and have not wavered from that, winning its fourth game in a row on Tuesday, 13-3 over Latvia in the quarter-finals of the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship.
For the Americans, who are traditionally dominant at this event, it’s back to familiar territory. Last year on home ice in Frisco, Texas, they lost in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2001. In the semi-finals, the USA will face Czechia, whom they beat 6-2 in the group stage.
The Americans put this game away early, scoring the game’s first five goals by the 13-minute mark. They led 6-1 after one period and 9-1 after two.
“We wanted to a quick start, get on them as early, put as many in as possible and then play the right way. I think we did that,” said Logan Cooley, who only scored one goal in the game but it was rather memorable.
Ryan Leonard scored three goals for the USA and captain Rutger McGroarty, who scored two goals in the last game against Germany on Tuesday, scored two more this game and added an assist. Seamus Casey also scored twice.
“A quarter-final game is do-or-die, and we’ve been playing good hockey, so we wanted to come out with a fast start and try to roll on them right away,” said Casey.
Latvia’s Sandis Vilmanis, Emils Veckaktins and Martins Kruklitis scored Latvia’s goals, with Kruklitis also picking up an assist.
“In the defensive zone was the hardest part,” Vilmanis said about the Americans. “They always find each other really well, they skate really fast and dangles, of course. Just a really good team.”
For the Latvians, seventh place marks their best-ever finish at the U18 Worlds. This was the third straight appearance in the elite group, and they will extend that to an unprecedented fourth straight elite-level tournament in 2023. Their only previous quarter-final game was in 2019, when they lost 3-1 to Canada.
“As the youngest team here, we had a wonderful experience throughout this tournament,” said Latvian head coach Olegs Sorokins. “The win against Sweden is a big highlight because it’s the first time we’ve ever beaten them in U18. Overall, I was happy with the attitude of the guys.”
As for this game, he said: “Of course, we knew it was going to be a big challenge but, unlike against Sweden, where we started well, today we really didn’t stick to the plan at the beginning. Everything was going wrong and I guess our guys weren’t ready for the speed. And not just the skating speed but the thinking speed, passing, and so on. The guys were maybe a little bit too excited or nervous at the start and the game and it got away from us quickly.”
The line of Charlie Stramel centring Cruz Lucius and McGroarty started strong against Germany, and did so again, scoring the USA’s first, third and fourth goals.
The first one came four minutes in, with defenceman Lane Hutson down low finding McGroarty for the backdoor tap-in. After Casey made it 2-0 just 1:24 later, McGroarty scored his second of the game in the eighth minute, with Hutson once again feeding him from below the goal line, this time in the slot.
“It was kind of a rush play,” Casey said about his first goal. “I was the late man in and Gavin Brindley just floated me a sauce pass. I had a straight line to the net and just tried to put it short-side with a good shot.”
For the 4-0 goal it was McGroarty and Cruz doing the dirty work down low, with Stramel providing the finishing touch in front at 12:24.
“There’s a good blend there,” U.S. head coach Adam Nightingale said about the line. “There’s a lot of skill, power, smarts, guys that work and get to the inside. It’s been a really good line for us.”
At that point, Sorokins lifted starting goalie Deivs Rolovs in favour of Linards Feldbergs. But Rolovs, who had already faced 18 shots by that point, could hardly be blamed for his team’s situation.
Feldbergs was promptly greeted just 28 seconds later by Cooley pulling off a “Michigan” lacrosse-style goal to make it 5-0.
“I felt like it was the right moment there, behind the net,” said Cooley, who has pulled off the move many times in practice but never in a game. “I’ve been wanting to try that now for a long time and luckily, it went in.”
Vilmanis got Latvia on the board just 40 seconds later on a brilliant individual effort, intercepting a pass near his own blueline and taking it all the way, going top shelf on Tyler Muszelik from the left wing.
“They just missed the pass to the other side of the ice, so I received it,” said Vilmanis. “I think I made a move on one defenceman and just shot to the near-side corner. Of course, it’s always a good feeling to score a goal but, when the score is like this, you just celebrate a little bit with your teammates and keep going.”
Leonard scored the USA’s sixth, eighth and 11th goals. Cutter Gauthier, Frank Nazar, Brindley and Ryan Chesley also scored for the Americans.
With the score 11-1, Latvia’s second goal came with 7:29 to play when Kruklitis made a nice move and found Veckaktins in the slot, who fired it home. Kruklitis then scored the game’s last goal with just 15.9 seconds to play.
A scary moment occurred with 3:06 to play in the first period when referee Lukas Kohlmueller was cut by a skate in a collision with a player and left the ice immediately. The teams took the first intermission at that point so that the blood could be cleaned off the ice. He was taken to local hospital where is reported to be in stable condition.