America's skill overcame Switzerland's will. The U.S. showed off its dazzling puck movement in a 5-1 win over the Swiss on Thursday night and kept its hopes of finishing first in Group B alive.
A dominant, three-goal second period, including two power-play goals, propelled the Americans to victory and a quarter-final berth. Switzerland suffered its first defeat after two wins in extra time at Moncton's Avenir Centre.
The top U.S. line, featuring three 2022 NHL first-round picks, was outstanding. Jimmy Snuggerud stepped up with two goals, Logan Cooley impressed with a goal and an assist, and Cutter Gauthier added two helpers. Meanwhile, captain Luke Hughes and Tyler Boucher each had a single.
About his personal renaissance, Cooley quipped: "I just realized I needed to stop sucking. But no, I mean, obviously, it's a tough tournament. There's a lot of good players in this tournament and for us to be the so-called first line, we need to start producing a little more. I thought we did that today. We were moving the puck way better. And obviously, when our whole line is going, we're going individually."
Squandering a 2-1 lead and falling 6-3 to Slovakia on Wednesday was a bitter pill for coach Rand Pecknold’s U.S. team to swallow. They bounced back nicely on balance.
"It's just what the team needs to move past the loss," Snuggerud said. "I think we did that professionally, came in today pretty strong, and obviously got the win."
"Anyone can beat anyone in this tournament," Hughes said. "And we've seen that with a lot of upsets or so-called upsets. But I think we go into every game thinking the same message."
Captain Attilio Biasca replied for Switzerland.
"We didn't follow our game plan," Biasca said. "We didn't have any discipline, with way too many penalties. Against a good team like that, you just can't do that. You have to have the discipline to stay out of the box, but it's a good learning for us for the rest of the tournament. So we're just looking forward to the next game [against Slovakia]."
This result wasn't unexpected. The Swiss have never beaten the Americans at the World Juniors. In 24 previous meetings, they accumulated a record of 22 losses and two ties and were outscored 138-46. The U.S. pounded Switzerland 7-1 at the 2022 tournament.
The Swiss, who had already wrapped up their quarter-final berth, gave top goalie Kevin Pasche the night off. Starting instead was World Junior rookie Alessio Beglieri, an 18-year-old Biel-Bienne product who plays for the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads. The U.S.’s Trey Augustine, who made 15 saves in the opening 5-2 win over Latvia, got his second start.
The U.S. outshot Switzerland 42-19.
With 1:55 left in the period, the Americans drew first blood on a brilliant set-up. Cooley darted behind the net and sent a quick back pass to Snuggerud at the side of the net for him to bang in.
"It's pretty special," said Snuggerud of the pass from his University of Minnesota teammate. "He's given me a lot of those in my career. But I'm pretty fortunate to have him on my line. it was a cool play."
The Swiss continued to hang tough in the second period, but couldn't prevent Cooley from making it 2-0 at 5:49 with the first American man advantage. It came on a tic-tac-toe play that would have made the famous Soviet KLM Line envious.
Gauthier skimmed the puck from the right faceoff circle to Rutger McGroarty at Beglieri's left post, and McGroarty sent it back through his legs cross-ice to Cooley, who roofed it into the gaping cage.
"That was an old NTDP connection," Cooley said. "It was a great play and I was happy to bury that."
The U.S. continued to press, and with about seven minutes left in the second period, Snuggerud rang one off the post.
Switzerland then had a golden chance to get on the board on an odd-man break. An onrushing Mischa Ramel's shot from the left side spawned a juicy rebound for Jeremy Jabola, but U.S. defenceman Ryan Ufko was there to check his stick.
At 16:40, Snuggerud gave the U.S. a 3-0 lead. Jackson Blake cut around the Swiss goal and found Snuggerud with a sweet feed in the left faceoff circle. He fell to his knees as he whipped the puck into the net.
Just 1:22 later, Boucher made it 4-0 off a faceoff in the Swiss zone, picking up the rebound from Ryan Chesley's shot off Beglieri's right pad in the slot and firing it home.
The Moncton crowd exploded with sympathetic cheers when Switzerland broke Augustine's shutout bid with 28 seconds left in the second period. Off a faceoff, Biasca zinged the puck past the goalie's blocker side for his second goal of these World Juniors.
"It was a great faceoff from Lorenzo Canonica," Biasca said. "I saw the puck and I just shot it and thank God it went in."
Still, the U.S. finished with an 18-8 edge in second-period shots, and that was no accident.
In the third period, the U.S. remained dominant with its puck possession. Hughes added a fifth goal with a top-corner snipe from the right faceoff circle at 13:03. Switzerland only registered its first shot of the period moments after that.
The Americans will face off against Finland on New Year’s Eve in the marquee matchup in Moncton. At the last 10 World Juniors, these nations have won three gold medals apiece. The U.S. triumphed in 2010, 2013 and 2021 and Finland in 2014, 2016, and 2019.
"They're a heck of a team, we're a heck of a team," Cooley said. "It's gonna be a good battle."