LANDSHUT, Germany - The U.S. Under-18 Men's National Team used a hat-trick from Ryan Leonard (Amherst, Mass.) to take down Latvia, 13-3, Thursday evening at Fanatec Arena. With the win, Team USA advances to the 2022 IIHF Under-18 Men's World Championship semifinals, where they will take on Czechia Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (8:30 a.m. ET).
“I was proud of our guys, they were ready to go,” said head coach Adam Nightingale (Cheboygan, Mich.). “The big thing for us is we want to play team hockey and they did a great job of that tonight. It’s time to get a good day of practice tomorrow and be ready for Czechia on Saturday.”
For the second consecutive game, U.S. captain Rutger McGroarty (Lincoln, Neb.) kicked off the scoring. Lane Hutson (North Barrington, Ill.) drove the left wing and sent his pass through the crease to McGroarty at the far post, where he banged it in for a 1-0 lead at 4:10 of the first period.
Team USA doubled the lead just over a minute later with a Seamus Casey (Fort Myers, Fla.) rip from inside of the right circle. Gavin Brindley (Estero, Fla.) and Frank Nazar (Mount Clemens, Mich.) combined to set up the defenseman, who found himself alone for his second score in as many games.
Hutson and McGroarty linked up for their second score of the game to make it 3-0 at 7:40 of the opening period. The defenseman carried the puck behind the Latvian cage and found McGroarty through four defenders for his sixth score of the tournament.
Charlie Stramel (Rosemount, Minn.) made it four in a row for Team USA, using a strong net-front presence to muscle his way in front. McGroarty found Cruz Lucius (Grant, Minn.) with a pass behind the net. Lucius centered to Stramel, who played it off of his skate before poking it through the five-hole of Deivs Rolovs.
Team USA made it five goals in less than nine minutes when Logan Cooley (Pittsburgh, Pa.) converted on his attempt at "The Michigan". He picked up a rebound after Cutter Gauthier's (Scottsdale, Ariz.) shot was turned aside, and in stride, got the puck on his blade and put it over the goalie's shoulder with limited space.
After Sandis Vilmanis got Latvia on the board, Leonard returned serve two minutes later when gloved a Latvian clearing attempt, placed the puck back on the ice and fired into the far-side top corner to give the U.S. a 6-1 lead entering the first intermission.
The U.S. scored first in the middle period when Gauthier fired from the left slot off a tic-tac-toe passing sequence from Jimmy Snuggerud (Chaska, Minn.) and Charlie Leddy (Fairfield, Conn.), both picking up their second helpers of the night.
Leonard connected on his second of the evening to put the U.S. up 8-1 with a little more than five minutes to play in the second. Devin Kaplan (Bridgewater, N.J.) was first to a loose puck and found Leonard entering the zone. He tucked his shoulder to get by the defender and went backhand-forehand-five-hole for the finish.
Late in the second period, Nazar took a stretch pass from Casey and scooted in behind the defense to score with a quick deke to give Team USA a 9-1 lead. Tyler Duke (Strongsville, Ohio) picked up his first IIHF point with an assist.
Brindley added his first score of the tournament and Leonard completed the hat-trick in the third period.
Latvia scored its second of the game with 7:29 to play.
Casey tallied his second and Ryan Chesley (Mahtomedi, Minn.) added another for the U.S. late in regulation before Latvia found the back of the net in the final 30 seconds to account for the 13-3 final.
U.S. netminder Tyler Muszelik (Long Valley, N.J.) finished the game with 15 saves as he picked up his second win of the tournament.
After a day off tomorrow, Team USA will play Czechia in the semifinals on Saturday at Fanatec Arena. The game will broadcast live on NHL Network.
NOTES: Ryan Leonard, with three goals on the night, was named the U.S. Player of the Game ... For complete tournament news, including full schedule, broadcast information, stats and standings, click here ... Team USA news, including tournament interviews and highlights, can be found at TeamUSA.USAHockey.com ... The U.S. has won 10 gold medals in IIHF U18 Men's World Championship history, the most of any country ... Follow @USAHockey on Twitter for the latest information and updates throughout the tournament.