BASEL, Switzerland - Will Smith (Lexington, Mass.) scored two goals and Ryan Leonard (Amherst, Mass.) and Cole Hutson (Barrington, Ill.) added three points each as the U.S. Under-18 Men's National Team topped Latvia, 7-1, to open preliminary-round play on Thursday (April 20) at St. Jakob Arena.
“As you go into a tournament like this, you want to continue to build, and for game 1 I thought we were building as we went through the game," said head coach Dan Muse (Canton, Mass.). "Now it’s going to be important that we just keep taking steps as we’re moving forward.”
The opening 20 minutes were played without a goal as U.S. netminder Trey Augustine (South Lyon, Mich.) turned aside all 11 shots from Latvia.
Team USA had great offensive-zone possession on an early-period power play, but could not put one in the back of the net. Danny Nelson (Maple Grove, Minn.) helped carry the offense with a pair of shots on goal to lead the team in the opening frame.
Cole Eiserman (Newburyport, Mass.) put the U.S. on the board 59 seconds into the second period with a blast from the right circle on the power play. Hutson shifted the puck to James Hagens (Hauppauge, N.Y.) to start the play. He went across the grain to find Eiserman for his first of the tournament.
Team USA added another man advantage tally at the halfway mark of the game, this one courtesy of Leonard. Carey Terrance (Akwesasne, N.Y.) was strong on the puck behind the cage and dished it in front to Gabe Perreault (Hinsdale, Ill.). He found Leonard, who rang it off the post and in for a 2-0 U.S. lead.
The U18s made it three in a row before the close of the period as Smith used a perfect redirection off a Leonard point shot. Hutson set up the score again, giving the underager a multi-point game in his IIHF debut.
Oliver Moore (Mounds View, Minn.) put another on the board just 22 seconds into the third. Off of feeds from Hutson and Eiserman, Moore had an empty portion of the cage and ripped his shot in the top corner.
Latvia got on the board with a shorthanded score from Valters Niedrajs just more than a minute later to make it a 4-1 game.
Team USA responded at 4:05 on a 5-on-3 advantage as Smith found pay dirt after a goalmouth scramble. Perreault ended up with the loose puck and took it behind the Latvian net before he found Smith stationed in front for his second score of the game.
The U.S. added another as Salvatore Guzzo (Old Tappan, N.J.) netted from a poor angle along the goal line with just over five minutes to play. Nelson and Aram Minnetian (Woodcliff Lake, N.J.) assisted on the goal to make it 6-1.
Zach Schulz (South Lyon, Mich.) connected from the top of the right circle to give the U.S. some more insurance. Moore and Terrance were credited with helpers to give both two points on the night.
Augustine was sturdy in net as he finished with 19 saves to pick up his first win of the tournament and eighth career IIHF victory. Hampton Slukynsky (Warroad, Minn.) took over late in the third and made stops on all four shots he saw.
The U.S. is off tomorrow before continuing preliminary-round play Saturday evening against Norway. Puck drop is set for 7:00 pm local / 1:00 pm ET from St. Jakob Arena and the game will air live on NHL Network.