The U.S. Under-18 Men’s Select Team fired shot after shot on goal in its final preliminary-round game Wednesday against Czechia. Time and time again, the Americans were denied — and with it went any chance at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup title.
Instead, with a third-place finish in Group A, the U.S. will play Slovakia for fifth place Friday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NHL Network.
“I thought we had our chances,” U.S. captain Griffin Erdman (Wilmington, Del.) said. “It was just maybe a little lack of detail. We just couldn't put one home. But we definitely got our looks.”
That was the theme of the last two games of the preliminary round. After an opening 8-1 win over Germany, the U.S. was stifled by Finland 4-1 before falling to the Czechs 3-1. In all three games, the U.S. decisively outshot its opponent: 49-15 vs. Germany, 31-23 vs. Finland and 35-20 vs. Czechia. In all but one of the nine periods the Americans have played, they had more shots.
“I thought we battled hard all three periods, just in the end didn't get what we wanted,” said U.S. forward Tanner Adams (Northport, N.Y.), who scored the lone goal Wednesday. “Their goalie played well. We had a lot of shots on him but nothing we can do about that now. We just have to stay focused on the next game.”
“I think there were certainly spots where we could have executed better,” said U.S. head coach Anthony Noreen (Chicago, Ill.), the reigning USHL Coach of the Year with the Tri-City Storm. “I thought we saw a Czech team that was a lot like Finland, where they defended well, they defended hard and then when they got their chances, they were really opportunistic. We had a lot of cracks in and around the net. I thought their goalie made some big saves. At the end of the day, you need more than one goal and I just didn't think we finished around the net enough.”
The only chance the U.S. had to make the semifinals was by winning in regulation. But the Czechs grabbed the lead when Jan Kucera scored one minute, 57 seconds into the second period and then Jan Spryner made it 2-0 4:07 into the third period.
“Obviously that second goal there hurt because of the way we were playing,” said Erdman, a Dartmouth College commit who has a goal and an assist in three games. “I still felt we were dominating the game. I think we hopped right on them after that goal and got right back to our game. We just couldn't put one home.”
The U.S. would finally get one past Czech goaltender Michael Hrabal just 58 seconds later when Adams, a Providence recruit, punched home a rebound off a Quentin Musty shot.
“I was telling the guys 'Nothing changes,'” Adams said. “Whether we're down one, whether we're down two or whether we're down five, the same thing needs to happen. We've just got to stay focused and keep on battling.”
Adams said his goal gave the U.S. “more juice” at a time it was needed, especially knowing going to overtime wasn’t an option if the Americans wanted to make the semifinals.
Even with the added momentum and energy, the U.S. squad couldn’t find a way to capitalize on number of chances in the third period and ultimately came up short.
“I thought the attitude and the want level of our team was certainly there throughout,” Noreen said.
While wanting to finish with a win Friday, the U.S. players have enjoyed playing in this tournament no matter the result.
“It was a great experience,” Adams said. “Just being able to put on that USA logo on the chest is an honor. Just to be with all these guys, these great hockey players, it's just a great experience. You make new friends, meet new people. Just awesome.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.