USA U18 triumphs
by Andy Potts|14 NOV 2022
Will Smith lead Team USA in scoring en route to the tournament win.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
The first international action of the U18 season saw tournament wins for the USA, Slovenia, and Germany. Latvia had the better of a hard-fought three-game series in Norway.

Smith, Perrault lead USA to victory

Team USA hosted a five-team tournament against some of Europe’s top U18 national teams, and the host came out on top in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Americans won all four of their outings, culminating in a 5-1 success against Sweden in a de-facto gold medal game.

Against the Tre Kronor, the USA fell behind early to Otto Stenberg’s eighth-minute goal. However, the visitor’s hopes of upsetting the home team and taking top spot did not last long. Will Smith tied the scores late in the first after exchanging passes with Gabe Perrault. Those two would finish the tournament tied for top scorer on nine points. In the middle frame, the Americans took control. Ryan Fine, Ryan Leonard and Beckett Hendrickson scored three unanswered goals to open a convincing 4-1 lead. Smith then finished the job in the third, putting a final gloss on an impressive tournament for his team.

The host nation was dominant throughout much of the tournament, scoring 29 goals through four games and allowing just eight at the other end. Smith, a projected first-round pick at next summer’s NHL draft, had six of those goals. The centre formed an impressive partnership with Perrault throughout the competition and continues to gain good notices for his effective two-way play. Last season he won World U18 silver and the Boston University commit looks poised to play a big part in the 2023 edition in Switzerland next April.

There was only one truly close encounter for the USA, a rollicking 7-5 success against Finland. Gabe Perrault led the scoring in that game with 4 (2+2) points. His team fell behind, then jumped to a 6-1 lead before the Finns fought back late in the action. The 17-year-old is tipped to continue something of a hockey dynasty: dad Yanic enjoyed a long career as a centre in the NHL, compiling 516 (247+269) points from 859 games across 14 seasons in the show. In IIHF play, he represented Canada and won World Championship silver in 1996. However, Gabe was born in Illinois and has grown up in the U.S. development program. 

Perrault is not the only one of his siblings in the game: older brother Jeremy, 20, made his first appearance for the Ducks last season, having been a first-round pick back in 2020. This season, the right winger is in action for the San Diego Gulls in the AHL. Sister Liliane, 22, is also a hockey player, currently in her fifth year with Mercyhurst University in the NCAA. This was Perrault’s first tournament with the U18s, and he finished as joint leading scorer, tied with Smith on 9 (4+5) points.

Despite Finland’s battling performance against the USA, it could not do better than bronze. A 2-4 loss to old rival Sweden decided the medal placings. Switzerland took fourth thanks to a 4-2 win over Czechia. The Czechs managed a solitary point from an overtime loss against Finland in their final game.

German fightback downs Slovakia

Germany came out on top after hosting a three-team tournament in Fussen. Prior to the competition, the Germans defeated Denmark 4-2 in a warm-up game. However, when the team’s met in the official opener, it was a very different story. A solitary goal from Kevin Bicker midway through the first period, combined with a shut-out from goalie Valentin Ankirchner, earned the host the narrowest of wins.

Game two saw Slovakia start its campaign with a convincing 6-1 win over the Danes. Roman Kukumberg was among the Slovak scorers. His father, also Roman, is still playing in the Slovak Extraliga. He won three national championships, represented his country at four World Championships and helped Ak Bars Kazan win the 2010 Gagarin Cup in a long career. Roman Jr is a prospect at Slovan Bratislava, one of his father’s former clubs.

That set up a tournament decider on Saturday. Slovakia made a good start, opening a 3-1 lead in the first period. Two goals and an assist from Adam Cedzo seemed to have his team in complete control. However, Germany responded well. Niklas Greil pulled one back late in the middle frame and the host completed its fightback in the final minutes. Bicker, who would finish as the tournament’s leading scorer with 4 (2+2) points, tied it up on 55:16. Then further goals from Vadim Schreiner and Timo Rucksdaschel sealed a dramatic win.

Slovenia’s defence dominates in Ferlach

The Ferlach Cup in Austria came down to a shoot-out between Slovenia and the host nation. The teams played out a 1-1 tie in regulation, with Martin Krepinsek giving Slovenia a second period, only for Laurin Sandholzer to tie it up with a power play goal early in the third. This was a game dominated by goalies, with Austria’s Patrick Muller stopping 20 shots in 65 minutes, while his opposite number Mark Babnik made 26 saves. In the shoot-out, Babnik had the better of it. He kept the Austrians at bay while Anze Zezelj got the decisive goal at the other end.

That was the closest Slovenia came to defeat in the four-team competition. It opened with a 4-1 win over Hungary and finished by beating Italy 6-0, securing top spot with some impressive defence and goaltending that allowed just two goals in 185 minutes’ play. Austria also had a convincing win over the Italians, but went down 3-6 against Hungary on the final day to miss out on second place.

Latvia edges tight series in Norway

The weekend’s remaining action came in Sarpsborg, where Norway played a three-game series against Latvia. All three games were settled by a single goal. The Norwegians took a 3-2 verdict in the opening, but fell 2-1 in the second encounter. That set up a decider on Sunday, and the teams traded nine goals before Latvia edged a 5-4 verdict. 

In that final game, Latvia opened a 4-1 lead thanks to two goals and an assist from 16-year-old Kristers Ansons. His older brother, Raivis, was among the leading scorers as Latvia’s juniors won promotion from Division IA last season. 

Norway, however, was not daunted and battled back to tie the scores at 4-4 with 79 seconds left. With overtime beckoning, defenceman Oskars-Nils Briedis stepped up to snatch a late winner for Latvia.

Scores & Standings

5 Nations Tournament in the U.S.
8 Nov. Plymouth (USA) Finland - Switzerland 4-1
8 Nov. Plymouth (USA) USA - Czechia 6-1
9 Nov. Plymouth (USA) Sweden - Switzerland 5-2
9 Nov. Plymouth (USA) Finland - USA 5-7
10 Nov. Plymouth (USA) Sweden - Finland 4-2
10 Nov. Plymouth (USA) Switzerland - Czechia 4-2
11 Nov. Plymouth (USA) Czechia - Sweden 3-5
11 Nov. Plymouth (USA) Switzerland - USA 1-11
12 Nov. Plymouth (USA) Czechia - Finland 0-1 OT
12 Nov. Plymouth (USA) USA - Sweden 5-1
Standings: 1. USA 12 pts, 2. Sweden 9, 3. Finland 5, 4. Switzerland 3, 5. Czechia 1.
3 Nations Tournament in Germany
9 Nov. Fussen (GER) Germany - Denmark 4-2
10 Nov. Fussen (GER) Denmark - Germany 0-1
11 Nov. Fussen (GER) Denmark - Slovakia 1-6
12 Nov. Fussen (GER) Germany - Slovakia 5-3
Standings: 1. Germany 6, 2. Slovakia 3, 3. Denmark 0.
Ferlach C7p in Austria
10 Nov. Ferlach (AUT) Hungary - Slovenia 1-4
10 Nov. Ferlach (AUT) Austria - Italy 6-1
11 Nov. Ferlach (AUT) Hungary - Italy 7-5
11 Nov. Ferlach (AUT) Slovenia - Austria 2-1 SO
12 Nov. Ferlach (AUT) Austria - Hungary 3-6
12 Nov. Ferlach (AUT) Italy - Slovenia 0-6
Standings: 1. Slovenia 8 pts, 2. Hungary 6, 3. Austria 4, 4. Italy 0.
Other games
11 Nov. Sarpsborg (NOR) Norway - Latvia 3-2
12 Nov. Sarpsborg (NOR) Norway - Latvia 1-2
13 Nov. Sarpsborg (NOR) Norway - Latvia 4-5