RED DEER, Alberta – Matthew Knies (Phoenix, Ariz.) netted Team USA’s first goal of the tournament, while nine Americans recorded a point in as the 2022 U.S. National Junior Team defeated Slovakia, 3-2, here tonight in the preliminary round opener of the 2022 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Red Deer, Alberta.
“Our guys stuck together and grinded out a tough game,” said head coach Nate Leaman (East Greenwich, R.I.). “It’s a good first step for our group. We need to keep working hard and improving before we play Switzerland on Tuesday.”
The U.S. penalty kill and defense needed to be sharp right off the draw, as Drew Commesso (Norwell, Mass.) turned aside the Slovakian rush. Commesso led the penalty kill in the first period, thwarting two Slovakian man advantages. Team USA used momentum from the penalty kill to push possession toward the Slovak end of the ice.
Slovakia committed back-to-back penalties to put Team USA on a 5-on-3 power play for 21 seconds, an opportunity they would take advantage of. Off an offensive zone faceoff, Jack Peart (Grand Rapids, Minn.) skated along the blue line and dished the puck to Logan Cooley (Pittsburgh, Pa.) in the slot. Cooley found the tape of Matt Knies (Phoenix, Ariz.) with a no-look pass, who beat Slovakian netminder Simon Latkoczy to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead with less than 10 minutes to go. The U.S. struck again while on the extended power play, as Matt Coronato (New York, N.Y.) sent a cross-ice pass to Mackie Samoskevich (Newton, Conn.), who wound up for a wrist shot to the top of the net.
Slovakia was held shotless in the middle frame for the opening 19 minutes. The U.S. increased its lead thanks to Landon Slaggert (South Bend, Ind.) cleaning up a loose puck in front of the net. Defenseman Wyatt Kaiser (Ham Lake, Minn.) skated hard into the zone and created a rebound opportunity for Slaggert, who tapped in the puck sitting loose in the crease.
Martin Chromiak put Slovakia on the board early in the third off a power play goal. Commesso continued to stand tall in his net to keep it a two-goal game after he stopped a flurry of shots with 16:10 to go in the period. Coronato looked to widen the lead back to three off a breakaway opportunity, but Latkoczy blocked it aside. Slovakia responded, pulling within one, as the team emptied its net for an extra attacker with 2:33 to go.
Slovakia gave one final push in the final minute, but Team USA held true to secure the win.
Commesso stopped 23 shots in the victory
Team USA continues preliminary round play in the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship Tuesday (Dec. 28) against Switzerland in Red Deer, Alberta at 4:30 p.m. ET. All games can be streamed on NHL Network.
NOTES: Drew Commesso (Norwell, Mass.) was named U.S. Player of the Game… The U.S. outshot Slovakia, 42-25… Team USA was 2-for-3 on the power play, while Slovakia was 1-for-4… For more information about the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, click here.