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Thursday, April 14, 2011

World Under-18 Championship Day1: USA-Switzlerand observations

Got to watch the stream of USA-Switzerland today from Crimmitschau, Germany at the IIHF Under-18 Men's World Championship today.

Team USA won the game by a 2-1 score, opening the tourney with a victory in their quest for a three-peat at the U18s for the first time in USA Hockey history.

Gregory Hoffman is not on Team Switzerland because he's a late-1992 birthdate and therefore ineligible.

Like most first games of any tournament, it was a little ragged and sloppy at times, but the teams picked it up as the contest went on.

USA spent much of the game killing penalties, as the officials didn't miss many chances to send the Americans to the box. The players will need to make an effort to play more disciplined going forward. Some of the calls were questionable/marginal, but others were simply lazy.

We will just focus on the 2011 eligibles, although future draft picks like Nick Kerdiles, Henrik Samuelsson, Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba all played a solid game for USA.

Rocco Grimaldi, F- USA's most dangerous one-on-one player didn't get it cranked up until the last five minutes or so of the opening period, but was a presence the rest of the way. He's at his most lethal when he's jitterbugging through defenses and forcing players to try and keep up with him. Grimaldi has the supreme vision and ability to open up passing lanes and get the puck into prime scoring areas.

Reid Boucher, F- Scored a power play goal to make it 2-1 on a beautiful one-timer from the high slot after taking a pass from J.T. MIller. Didn't do a lot throughout the game, but when USA needed him to come through he was in the right place, right time and did not miss.

Robbie Russo, D- We've been critical of the average-sized puck mover who doesn't have high-end skills and hasn't produced much this season, but he was solid in the first game. The Notre Dame-bound defender skated hard all game and made good decisions with the puck. He wasn't spectacular, but did advance the puck and get involved in the offensive flow. Assisted on Boucher's power play tally in the third period. It wasn't a dominant performance from Russo, but it was a good start. USA needs him to step up his game like this the rest of the way.

Connor Murphy, D- A strong game from the son of the former Bruins defenseman and current Panthers assistant coach. Moved fluidly along the point and was getting his hard shot on net throughout several USA power plays. Has very nice size and athleticism. Worked well on a PP pairing with Jacob Trouba. Aggressive offensively and used his body to rub out Swiss players along the boards and in front of the net. JUst a solid two-way game from the defenseman who is rising on draft boards after missing much of the season with a back injury. This tournament is huge for Murphy's stock.

John Gibson, G- Alternated the 1st and 2nd periods looking very strong and a bit shaky at times. Stood tall in the first period when USA got into penalty trouble, but gave up first goal to the Swiss early in the second when he was flopping on the ice and lost stick after giving up a big rebound. Pulled it together and had a strong, composed third period. Makes tough stops look easy. Big, quick and doesn't give opponents much net to shoot at. At the end of the day, he got it done when it mattered, especially in the waning seconds when he made a save to prevent the Swiss from tying it up. Named player of the game for USA for the way he locked it down at crunch time. Looked every bit like the No. 1 goalie in this class according to majority of sources out there.

J.T. Miller, F- Had an up-and-down game. Skates well and protects the puck when driving to the net. Took several bad penalties to put his team in a bind, but the USA penalty killers came through. Looked uninvolved at times, while was a bull in a china shop at others, cycling the puck and maintaining pressure on the Swiss defense with possession. You can see that he has the wheels and skills to be an impact player, but he's got to work on tendency to disappear for stretches and resist trying to get too cute with the puck in the offensive zone.

Ryan Haggerty, F- Scored USA's first goal in a scrum after fighting for position. Had a pretty stealthy game beyond that. Just kept things simple and played an effective two-way game. Meat-and-potatoes player with some smarts- should be a solid NCAA forward for RPI.

Tyler Biggs, F- Took two early penalties and didn't get a whole lot accomplished. In fairness, he made a good, hart hit on an opponent and appeared to get called more because the hit looked worse than it was. He was then pushed into the Swiss netminder. Did have a nice offensive chance in the third period in front on a power play, but Boltshauser made a terrific stop to deny him.

Zac Larraza, F- Played a solid defensive game as he forechecked well and disrupted Swiss movement out of their own end. He's got size and is a good skater, but we can see that the offensive hockey sense/creativity is what may prevent him from being much of a scoring presence. Still, he deserves credit for skating hard and being one of the USA's best players early on when many of his teammates were settling in and trying to find their legs.

Luca Boltshauser, G- Superb game from the Swiss netminder who channeled his inner Benjamin Conz in this one. Not much he could do on either USA goal, and he showed strong positioning, quick reflexes and a good glove/blocker combo to deny several high USA shots that were labeled. Impressive start from a kid we weren't tracking at all, but will watch with interest the rest of the way.

Dean Kukan, D- Solid, unspectacular performance just like his scouting report says. Doesn't do much to stand out, which in his case, is a good thing.

Samuel Guerra, D- Decent feet and puck-moving ability. Seems to have pretty good poise and vision; moved the puck smartly and crisply. Formed Switzlerand's best D-pairing with Kukan.

Lino Marschini, F- Tiny winger who played for the Peterborough Petes this year can really move, but is a perimeter player. He doesn't have much room to grow and isn't seen in any NHL circles we've talked to as a legitimate prospect because of his lack of size and an overall aversion to traffic and and being able to play effectively in the dirty areas of the ice.

USA takes on Slovakia tomorrow morning, 9:30 a.m. (3:30 pm local).

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