MONCTON, New Brunswick – The U.S. National Junior Team outshot Slovakia 36-26, but suffered a 6-3 loss tonight at the Avenir Centre in its second preliminary round game of the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Team USA will continue preliminary round play in the World Juniors tomorrow (Dec. 29) against Switzerland. Opening faceoff is set for 5:00 p.m. local time/4:00 p.m. ET at the Avenir Centre and the game can be seen live on NHL Network.
“I thought their goaltender was the best player on the ice tonight,” said Rand Pecknold, head coach of the U.S. National Junior Team and also the head men’s ice hockey coach at Quinnipiac University. “That said, we need to tighten things up and our guys know that. We’ll be better tomorrow."
Slovakia struck first just 2:14 into the game, but the U.S. answered back minutes later after Jackson Blake (Fargo, N.D.) drew a hooking penalty. Rutger McGroarty (Lincoln, Neb.) sent a one-timer net front off a feed from Cutter Gauthier (Scottsdale, Ariz.), and Tyler Boucher (Haddonfield, N.J.) buried the rebound on his knees from the top of the crease.
Gavin Brindley (Estero, Fla.) made things 2-1 at 6:48, deflecting a snipe by Lane Hutson (Chicago, Ill.) and sending it over the shoulder of Slovakian netminder Adam Gajan. Charlie Stramel (Rosemount, Minn.) also earned an assist.
Slovakia scored three times in a 3:19 span midway through the second period to take a 4-2 lead and added to its lead off a breakaway backhander with 9:14 to play in the third.
The U.S. pulled goaltender Kaidan Mbereko (Aspen, Colo.) with 5:20 remaining at the same stoppage of a Slovakia penalty for a 6-on-4 advantage and Boucher was waiting at the side of the goal to take advantage just :12 later after Gauthier’s shot from the slot bounded to him off a Slovak defender. Logan Cooley (West Mifflin, Pa.) also earned an assist on the play.
Team USA pulled Mbereko a second time with 3:18 to play, however, a length of the ice empty-net goal foiled any further U.S. comeback with 1:07 left.
Mbereko finished with 20 saves.
NOTES: Tyler Boucher was named Team USA’s player of the game … The U.S. was 2-5 on the power play, while Slovakia was 1-3 ... For Team USA’s roster and schedule, click here.