Reid Boucher ripped a shot into the top corner of the net with just 21 seconds left as Team USA avoided an embarrassing collapse in the third period after holding a 3-1 lead over Team Russia, winning the game by a 4-3 score.
The Americans lead their pool in preliminary round play with a perfect 3-0-0-0 record against Switzerland, Slovakia and Russia, who went 1-1-1-0, needing a shootout to beat Germany yesterday.
J.T. Miller (two goals) was named player of the game for Team USA, while Maxim Shalunov captured the honor for Russia. Although Shalunov played well and gave the Americans fits with his quick stick and ability to go end-to-end, it was a curious selection, given that Nikita Kucherov scored twice including tallying the tying goal with 4:43 left. Top 2012 frontrunner Nail Yakupov posted a three-point night, figuring in all three Russian goals
Defenseman Seth Jones continues to impress with his size, mobility and opportunistic two-way play. That's the good news. The bade news is that he can't be drafted until 2013.
John Gibson gave up three goals, but he also played a money game when it mattered most, in the dying minutes with the score tied 3-3 and in the final 21 seconds when he had to make at least three big saves in close to preserve the lead. He is getting it done, period.
USA closes out the preliminary round against Germany on Tuesday, but by virtue of their sterling record (and Russia needing a shootout to get past the Germans) they have clinched the top record and will get a bye to the semi-finals later this week.
Reid Boucher, F- Pure scorers come in all shapes and sizes, but this one happens to be just 5-10 and about 190 pounds. After Grimaldi, he's the U.S. Under-18 Team's most prolific and consistently dangerous scorer, and the Russians found that out as he sniped a laser from the outside with less than 30 ticks on the clock. It was an NHL shooter's goal...Ilya Bryzgalov could have been between the pipes and he wouldn't have stopped it. Grimaldi won the draw cleanly back to Boucher and positioned five feet outside the left circle, he wired it top corner glove side before poor Andrei Vasilevski could react. This kid has some serious hands and is going to be a real threat for the Michigan State Spartans when he joins them next season.
J.T. Miller, F- Two goals and player of the game honors showed what MIller can accomplish when he's on top of his game. He skates very well, goes to the net hard and protects the puck. His goals were scored as a result of hard work and being in the right place at the right time. He's been one of USA's more productive players in the tournament, and this was what was lacking from him much of the season. Scouts could see his tools/skills, but he simply wasn't finding the back of the net and consistently making his presence known. He was classic "see the sizzle, but where's the steak?" player, but he's putting it together at the right time.
Rocco Grimaldi, F- He didn't find the back of the net today, but Grimaldi had two huge plays in securing the win, both clean faceoff wins. The first came with 22 seconds left in the game, when he beat his man clean and put the puck right in Boucher's wheelhouse for the winning score. The second came with five seconds remaining and the faceoff deep in the USA zone to Gibson's right. Grimaldi again won it cleanly drawing back to the end boards for Jones, who pinned it against the wall and bled the clock (getting a nice crosscheck from a frustrated Russian for his efforts). Even when he doesn't have a big, productive outing, Grimaldi is proving that he can excel in big moments. That Ron Rolston had him out there not only for the winning goal but the decisive defensive faceoff with the game on the line speaks volumes for how this kid is viewed by the coaching staff. Rolston even had him playing the point on the power play with Robbie Russo's unit, working the blueline with Russo while Jones rotated down to the right halfwall most times. The setup paid off for one Miller goal, but Grimaldi didn't have a direct hand in it.
Travis Boyd, F- Another solid game and opportunistic goal from the unheralded forward from Hopkins, Minnesota. He's a darting, quick little guy with the shiftiness and smarts to make things happen at both ends. He's a better shooter than we thought, beating Vasilevski clean with a bullet from the slot, and he also has some creativity, as he scored the shorthanded goal against Slovakia by making the goalie commit and then just using his own speed and momentum to guide the puck into the open space the netminder vacated. It doesn't seem like much, but when you factor in the kind of natural feel it takes to make a play like that at top speed, you have to give the kid credit.
Cole Bardreau, F- Like Boyd (and Boucher and Grimaldi), Bardreau is yet another undersized but effective forward for Team USA. The Fairport, NY native may not have the scoring chops of the other guys, but he's been a defensive stalwart up front for Rolston's boys and is a major factor in the team's success on the PK so far.
Robbie Russo, D- Another superb two-way game from Russo, who has been a fine puck mover and overall presence for USA in all three games. His movement and distribution on the power play today was particularly effective, and he works extremely well in concert with Seth Jones when the two are working the point together. He assisted on Miller's first period power play goal and used his mobility and smarts throughout the game to make strong plays on both offense and defense. We're starting to see where all that second-round talk was coming from.
John Gibson, G- Victimized by a deflection and some scrambly play in front of his own net to see a 3-1 lead disappear, Gibson showed why with goalies it often isn't how many goals you give up but when that matters most. Russia had all the momentum when they tied the game with a little less than five minutes left, but Gibson then locked it down, making several huge saves to keep it tied. One in particular stood out just before Boucher's winning goal, when Gibson stoned Shalunov on a hard, heavy shot that would have likely been the game. Then, after his team took the lead, Gibson turned away several more shots in the final 21 ticks and looked real cool doing it. His 36 saves don't look as great on paper, but this was an immense performance from the University of Michigan recruit.
Maxim Shalunov, F- Player of the game for Russia didn't see the score sheet, but was a going concern all night. He's got very nice size, is a powerful skater and excellent stickhandler. He uses his speed and skill to skate through opposing teams and then has a wicked little release at the end. He was consistently attacking all game long, and scouts have said that if he could find away to keep the switch on all the time, he's be a solid first-rounder. He looked good today, but unfortunately, he spends a good deal of time on cruise control.
Nikita Kucherov, F- The book on Kucherov is pretty simple: small guy, very fast and highly skilled- a game-breaker. But kills it with his attitude, histrionics and lackadaisical play. Today was an example of the good Kucherov (though we did catch at least one major league dive he took when Tyler Biggs finished a check). He has a nasty shot that is very accurate, and he can back defenses up with his speed or he pounces on loose pucks in close and buries them. He made an athletic play on the tying goal and you wonder if some team like Washington or the New York Rangers with their draft history will roll the dice on this guy at some point.
Andrey Pedan, D- Big Russian D is a powerful skater and looked good in puck retrieval as he's able to use that long stride to cover a lot of ground and get back quickly. Moved it out smartly and played poised and confident on the blue line. Has a lot of physical tools in terms of his nice 6-5 size and long limbs/athleticism. We'd like to see him shoot the puck more, as he passed on several open shots that we saw in favor of moving it to different spots in the o-zone. He's raw, but teams just might take the plunge in the feeling that he's going to get stronger and more confident in doing more offensively as he develops. Played for Guelph of the OHL this season, so that's a bonus as well.
Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko are 2012 eligibles, but also played very well for Russia. Yakupov scored a power play goal and assisted on both of the other Russia goals. He showed off his brilliant speed and killer anticipation on one breakaway play, but Gibson came up with the save. Grigorenko was showed off some real nice hands and puck control on the power play. You can tell that he thinks the game at a very high level the way he can slow things down or speed them up, and the Americans gave him entirely too much space to work with. They're lucky he didn't burn them. Both are key guys to watch at this time a year from now.