U.S. wins group in blowout
by Lucas AYKROYD|31 DEC 2023
Captain Rutger McGroarty celebrates with U.S. teammates after his first of three goals in a 10-2 victory over Slovakia at the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.
In the New Year's Eve showdown for first place in Group B, the U.S. left no doubt, hammering Slovakia 10-2 at Frolundaborg. Captain Rutger McGroarty set the tone with a hat trick and goalie Trey Augustine shone when tested with 38 stops.

The U.S., which showcased its world-class skills and pure opportunism, will face Group A's fourth-place team in Tuesday's quarter-finals. Second-place Slovakia, which suffered its first tournament loss after collapsing from the late second period onward, will play either Finland or Germany.

Cutter Gauthier got his first goal of these World Juniors and had two assists, while Isaac Howard scored twice.

Both sides were missing key players. Returning U.S. ace Jimmy Snuggerud, who has four goals so far, sat out due to illness.

Slovak netminder Adam Gajan, 2023’s Best Goalie, sat out due to coach Ivan Fenes' decision to rest him for the quarter-finals. Instead, Samuel Urban made his World Junior debut between the pipes. For the U.S., Augustine returned after missing the 4-3 shootout win over Czechia due to illness.

The Americans are eager to improve on 2023’s bronze medal. They last won the World Juniors in Edmonton in 2021 and boast five gold medals altogether. Slovakia, which came sixth last year, has amassed two bronze medals (1999, 2015).

McGroarty opened the scoring with a slick wraparound at 6:21 for his first goal of this tournament. The 19-year-old forward has authored a remarkable return from injury after being stretchered off during a mid-November game with the University of Michigan.

Slovakia equalized at 8:57 as Marian Mosko’s point shot deflected in off Lane Hutson.

Blueliner Zeem Buium made it 2-1 at 10:13, dipsy-doodling through Slovak defenders before beating Urban five-hole. Rushing to the net on that play, Gavin Hayes made contact with the goalie and Fenes launched a coach’s challenge. However, the goal stood upon review. The U.S. besieged Urban’s net on the resulting power play with Slovakia penalized for delay-of-game.

Hayes was ejected from the game for a knee-on-knee hit with defender Milan Pisoja behind Slovakia’s net. The five-minute power play carried over to the middle frame, but Slovakia failed to capitalize. Worse yet, at 0:29, Brindley made it 3-1 on a magnificent shorthanded rush, beating Urban high to the stick side.

Slovakia dominated the second period and outshot the U.S. 20-11. But Augustine excelled in key moments, foiling everyone from leading Slovak scorer Servac Petrovsky to captain Adam Sykora at point-blank range.

Through the first three games, the Slovaks had the tournament’s top power play (6-for-13, 46%). Assistant captain Filip Mesar finally ended the U.S.'s perfect PK streak with a PP marker at 17:50, unleashing a wrister from the right faceoff circle to make it 3-2.

America answered right back with goals 34 seconds apart. Ryan Leonard, who scored the golden goal versus Sweden at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship, cruised into the slot, took a nice pass from Will Smith, and roofed it. McGroarty then scored off the rush for a 5-2 lead.

In the third period, McGroarty completed his hat trick off a slick back pass from Gauthier at 4:06. Howard made it 7-2 with his fourth goal at 5:49.

Fenes replaced Urban in net with Rastislav Elias, to no avail. Eric Pohlkamp's point shot trickled in for an 8-2 lead at 9:15. Gauthier converted a power-play rebound with nine minutes left. Howard got the tenth U.S. goal on a give-and-go with Frank Nazar, who took over the World Junior lead with his eighth assist.

The U.S.’s all-time World Junior record versus Slovakia improved to 16 wins, one tie, and five losses.
United States vs Slovakia - 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship