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Team USA Starts Fast, Finishes Strong

12/26/2013, 5:45pm EST
By Cameron Eickmeyer - USAHockey.com

Malmo, Sweden - Entering Thursday's IIHF World Junior Championship opener against Czech Republic, a fast start and sound special teams were atop the goals list for Team USA.

Check both boxes.

Captain Riley Barber scored the opening goal on the power play just 1:21 into the game, then Will Butcher one-timed another power play goal 41 seconds later.

"It's always good to get the cobwebs out and get a convincing win. I think our team played great," said Barber, whose goal came from a sharp angle and thanks to a little puck luck. "I just got some speed, took it wide and threw it on the net. Those are the ones you really like going in. Lucky bounce but I'll take it."

The quick start spurred Team USA to a strong performance overall to kick off its gold medal defense. The U.S. outshot Czech Republic, 28-23, had points from 13 different skaters and kept play in the opposing end for much of the game.

"We did a great job in the offensive zone just wearing the other team down, cyclying the puck below the goal line," said head coach Don Lucia.

Controlling the play started in the faceoff circle, where Team USA won 59% of the draws. That helped keep the puck in the Czech end, as well as retain possession in the defensive zone to keep the opposing attackers at bay.

The game wasn't a wire-to-wire performance by the Americans, who saw the pace slip a little after the early power-play goals. However, by the beginning of the second period, Lucia had the players back on track.

"We started to make some soft plays with the puck," Lucia said of the second half of the first period. "You just have to continue to make good, strong plays throughout the game."

The U.S. responded with two goals that came from hard-work and crashing the net in the second period. Hudson Fasching fired home a goal off a rebound and Jaccob Slavin stayed on top of a loose puck in the crease to double the lead to 4-0 entering the third period.

"When you get the two power-play goals to begin the game and can play with the lead it's much, much easier to play the game that way," Lucia said. "Our D did a good job breaking us out and Gillies was there when we needed him."

The success on the power play picks up where the 2013 gold-medal winning squad left off. That team was a 2013 tournament best 89% on the power play and Lucia continues to point to special teams as a crucial element of this tournament.

"The big thing is that we need to be a plus on our specialty teams each night and if we do that, it's going to go a long way toward helping us win," Lucia said.

On the penalty kill side, the U.S. gave up a goal, but it was off an unlucky turnover that goaltender Jon Gillies said wasn't a bad play.

"It was kind of an awkward bounce. Really tough luck on [Andrew Copp's] part, he made the right play," he said.

The first penalty kill of the game was a gem for Team USA. At one point the Americans kept the Czech power play in its own zone for nearly a full minute.

"It really makes things a lot easier when your team is clicking like that," Gillies added.

Team USA will look to keep the momentum and special teams success rolling when it takes on Slovakia on Saturday at 7:30 a.m ET. Watch the game live on NHL Network and streamed for web on NHL.com.

Results

DATE OPPONENT RESULT/RECAP
Dec. 26 Czech Republic W, 5-1
Dec. 28 Slovakia W, 6-3
Dec. 29 Germany W, 8-0
Dec. 31 Canada L, 3-2
Jan. 2 Russia (Quarterfinals) L, 5-3

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