Well, folks-- it's USA- Canada in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament championship game to be played Saturday. It's a competition the Canadians have owned since it began in 1991, with 14 gold medals, and barring a major upset by the Americans, they'll make it 15.
USA overcame 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to lose a 4-3 lead late in the third period to Sweden, but got a goal from defenseman Connor Murphy 41 seconds into sudden death to advance to the championship game and clinch at least a silver medal. I mentioned Murphy in the previous post about Team USA, but he's having an excellent tourney and should see his draft stock get a boost here to start the season. He's the lone member of the U.S. NTDP program, having played for the Under-17 team last year after coming up through the Columbus Jr. Blue Jackets program.
Seth Ambroz (1g, 1a) continued his offensive dominance to give the Americans a 4-3 lead, while Alaska native and Shattuck St. Mary's standout Tanner Sorensen tallied his second goal of the tournament in the game. Lukas Sutter had another strong game for the Americans, scoring twice, and looks like he could use this tourney as a springboard to a successful and productive season at Saskatoon this season.
The shots were 17-14, but Steve Michalek was in net for the USA to go 2-0 since getting the start in place of Jay Williams against Finland on Wednesday.
Canada rolled once again in their game against the Czechs, winning 6-2 to go 4-0 for the tourney. They were never threatened, taking a 3-0 lead and staying in control. Lucas Lessio scored a pair of goals after not having done much on the scoresheet over the past several contests when he got off to a hot start. Lessio has all you look for in an NHL prospect: size, skating, shot and sense. If he can bring the intensity to match with the Oshawa Generals this season, he'll be a highly-rated draft prospect in June.
Matt Puempel, who's a preseason top-five candidate after winning CHL Rookie of the Year with the OHL's Peterborough Petes last season, also scored and has, along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (the WHL's ROY finalist) had a very strong, consistent tourney to pace Canada in scoring. Alan Quine, Brett Ritchie and Garrett Meurs also scored for Canada, while Václav Tomek and Petr Šidlík tallied for the Czechs.
Well, nobody's surprised that Canada is in the final, but the Americans? Give them and coach Tim Army and staff credit-- they've gotten a tremendous performance thus far from their horse, Ambroz, while little dudes John Gaudreau, Tanner Sorensen and Cason Hohmann have gotten it done offensively for them.
Let's face it, though-- Canada is HEAVILY favored on Sunday. And, I can't emphasize that enough. The Canadians have a top-notch club at all positions, and if the past is any inclination, a huge percentage of these guys will be first-round picks in Minnesota next June. And, they even left the small but uber-skilled Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers at home! On the USA roster, only Ambroz is a first-round lock at present. On paper, it looks like Canada will cruise to another gold medal.
But, the games aren't played on paper, are they?
USA is in a good position: they aren't expected to win, and if they can keep it loose and close, they'll have a shot. But, Canada has been a juggernaut, and I see no reason that they won't continue their prolific scoring ways and smothering D. I've had one Canadian reader of this blog tell me privately that he's worried about a USA upset, but I would say that I'm counting on a Canadian win.
They're just too skilled, too deep, too good all the way around, but I'm certainly proud of what the young Americans have done and they deserve all the praise and credit they can get. This team has outperformed the one last year that boasted four first-round picks in Austin Watson, Nick Bjugstad, Kevin Hayes and Charlie Coyle.