“I think we’re the best team.” – Seth Jones, Dec. 20, 2012
Of course the guy that everyone points to after the U.S. beat Sweden 3-1 to win its second gold medal in the last four years at the IIHF World Junior Championship (two more than Canada, for those scoring at home) is John Gibson. Hard to argue that he should have been anything less than tournament MVP.
He allowed just nine goals on 202 shots in seven games, good for a save percentage of .955 and a GAA 1.36. As he sparkled against the Canadians, he similarly shined against the defending gold medal-winning Swedes, making 26 saves on 27 shots. Not too many of those shots really troubled him as much as those in the semifinal did, and perhaps that’s to be expected, but nonetheless, he was the rock upon which Phil Housley built his gold medal-winning team.
What will get mentioned less often than Gibson, who really cannot be mentioned enough, is how well the U.S. defense played not only in this clinching gold medal game, but throughout the tournament. They gave up three goals just once, in a game in which they still beat Slovakia by six and barely broke a sweat. But those defenders earned their freight against Canada and, especially, Sweden. Jacob Trouba, in particular, struck me as being especially effective, not so much because he was diving to block shots like Mark Scheifele does at the slightest contact, but because he displayed an overwhelming amount of defensive awareness. The number of rushes he broke up with a quick stick and a little shove can’t be counted on fingers and toes alone, and that was more or less indicative of just how good the whole blue line was for the vast majority of the tournament.
Now, to be fair, it should be pointed out that a defensive lapse by Seth Jones gave the Swedes a 1-0 lead in the first period. Still hard to figure out what he was doing there, or on the goals by Canada and Russia, for that matter, but if the biggest problem the team has is a 17-year-old defenseman who’s going in the top two at the NHL Draft this summer, well, I guess that’s fine then.
More to the point on contributions from the blue line is just how much they excelled in driving the offense. Patrick Sieloff and Trouba, respectively, picked up the primary assists on Rocco Grimaldi’s goals in this one, and in all, the American defensemen compiled a combined 10-19-29 in just seven games. Trouba finished with as many points as Jonathan Huberdeau. Jones as many as Ryan Strome.
None of that is to discount the offense, of course. That, too, was prodigious once the Americans hit the medal round. In it, they outscored opponents 15-2, and even one of those two was scored after a whistle. That looks real good for the defense, but the 15 in three games is pretty terrifying as well. And of all the people to jumpstart the U.S. offense today, it was Grimaldi, who started the tournament on the top line but, after three games (two of which were “losses,” wink-nudge) with little to show for it, he was dropped down in the lineup. Not that either of his goals, a jam-in at the side of the net and a tip off the shaft of his stick on a Trouba point shot, were dizzying displays of Gaudreauvian skill, but the American ethos is generally that it needs to outwork other teams, and the way Grimaldi shrugged off his mugging behind the net for the first goal, and went to a high-traffic area (despite being generously listed at 5-foot-7) for the second, certainly underscores that.
The fact of the matter, and we can all sit here and agree to this now and forever, is that the above quote from Jones, for which he was derided endlessly after a pair of losses the U.S. controlled for the majority of the games, was for all intents and purposes true. All other teams that survived to the medal rounds ended with worse records. When the games actually mattered, the U.S. gutted its opponents. Even in the most dire moments of today’s game, there was never this kind of all-encompassing concern that swirled around Canada or Russia whenever they faltered. Their missteps turned very quickly into fire drills.
But the American defense and forwards could rest assured that Gibson would bail them out if necessary, and all they had to do was score more than one on any given night. They did just enough today to ensure they went home champions of the world.
Russia 6, Canada 5 (OT)
Didn’t watch this one. Didn’t have to.