LAKE PLACID - Playing for the first time this week as a single unit, the United States men's under-20 hockey team opened a three-game international exhibition series with a 5-2 victory over Finland Wednesday at the Olympic Center.
Skating on the ice of the Herb Brooks 1980 Arena, the Americans took an early 1-0 edge. After Finland knotted the contest, the U.S. went on to score four of the next five goals, including a pair of third-period tallies to pull away.
The games are included in a week-long USA Hockey evaluation camp that started with 45 of the top American under-20 prospects looking to earn spots on the team that will compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships being held from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia. Prior to Wednesday's matchup, the U.S. roster was whittled down to 35 players who remained to take on Finland and Sweden.
Janne Jovonen makes a pad save for Finland on a shot off the stick of Matt Grzelcyk of the United States during Wednesday’s under-20 national team exhibition game at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
The U.S. will face the powerful Swedes, who are the defending junior world champions, tonight at the Olympic Center starting at 4 p.m.
Against Finland, five different players scored for the U.S., and goalies John Gibson and Garret Sparks combined in net to earn the win. Most of the American tallies were a result of efficient forechecking and players finding room in front of Finland's net.
"We really played well, especially in the second half of the game," said U.S. head coach Phil Housley, who will be leading the team in Russia. "We won a lot of battles tonight, especially in their end. We got some dirty goals, and that's good."
Stephan Matteau opened the scoring, giving the U.S. a 1-0 edge five minutes into the game with assists going to Tyler Biggs and Andrew Welinski. Miro Aaltonen sent the game into the first intermission tied at 1-1 when he scored with 1:44 remaining in the opening period.
The U.S. never looked back after Sean Kuraly found the back of the net with 6:28 remaining in the middle stanza. He gave the Americans a 2-1 lead, and John Gaudreau scored less than three minutes later to up the U.S. edge to 3-1.
Aaltonen pulled Finland back to within a goal with his second score of the game, which came with two minutes left in the period and sent the teams into the second intermission with the U.S. in front 3-2.
The matchup remained a one-goal affair until late in the third period when Nicolas Kerdiles and Stefan Noesen each netted a goal. Kerdiles scored with 5:01 remaining and Noesen notched the final marker with 3:56 remaining on the game clock.
Gibson made 12 saves in goal for the U.S. Garret, who took over with about five minutes left in the second period, stopped nine shots.
Janne Jovonen went the distance in net for Finland and stopped 31 of the 36 shots the Americans fired his way.
The U.S. players are hoping to make it two wins in as many days when they take on Sweden today. The task won't be easy. So far the Swedes have posted two lopsided wins, topping the USA White team 5-1 on Monday and following that up with an 8-2 victory over Finland Tuesday.
On Friday, Sweden and Finland will play one more game, and the camp wraps up Saturday with a rematch between the U.S. and Finland starting at 1 p.m.