BASEL, Switzerland – Will Smith (Lexington, Mass.) collected a goal and four assists to help the U.S. Under-18 Men’s National Team prevail in a back-and-forth battle with Finland to earn an 8-4 victory on Sunday, and win its third straight preliminary-round game at the 2023 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship.
"We loved the way the guys played, seeing the consistent responses that we had," said Dan Muse (Canton, Mass.), head coach of the 2023 U.S. Under-18 Men's National Team. "Finland is a great team, it’s not supposed to be easy. But our staff believes in our group and their response tonight was great to see."
The U.S. opened the scoring on its second shift of the game, just 64 seconds in, as Oliver Moore (Mounds View, Minn.) got in alone and beat Eemil Vinni over the blocker with a quick wrister. A strong forecheck from Ryan Fine (Center Moriches, N.Y.) forced a Finnish turnover and his touch-pass sprung Moore in for the 1-0 lead.
After U.S. netminder Trey Augustine (South Lyon, Mich.) made a tremendous stop moving from left to right on the defensive end, Team USA drove the puck up the ice and Aram Minnetian (Woodcliff Lake, N.J.) finished from the inside of the right circle. Gabe Perreault (Hinsdale, Ill.) dropped it to Smith along the left wing where he found Minnetian making a run towards the net. The defenseman ripped a quick wrister to make it 2-0 less than four minutes in.
The Finns responded with a pair before the buzzer to make it a 2-2 game after 20 minutes. Konsta Helenius’s center point shot found the back of the net for a power-play score as Augustine was screened in front at 15:58. Arttu Alasiurua tied it up after he was first to the rebound and potted a second-chance opportunity with less than a minute to play in the opening frame.
After killing a penalty to begin the second period, Team USA was awarded an early power play of its own and Cole Eiserman (Newburyport, Mass.) restored the U.S. advantage. Cole Hutson (Barrington, Ill.) found James Hagens (Hauppauge, N.Y.) along the left wing and he pushed it across the crease to Eiserman, stationed at the right circle, to make it 3-2. The score was Eiserman’s sixth overall goal and fourth on the power play, both of which lead the tournament.
After video review waived off a potential fourth goal, Hagens used a silky between-the-legs drag in the crease to cement goal number four on the board. Will Vote (Arlington, Mass.) earned the lone assist, his fourth in three games, to put Team USA up 4-2.
Finland cut the deficit back to one as Kasper Halttunen fired a wrist-shot over the shoulder of Augustine from the right dot with 6:41 to play in the second.
Smith regained the two-goal lead for the U.S. with just over a minute to go in the period. After picking the puck up from Zeev Buium (San Diego, Calif.), Smith weaved in and out of four Finnish skaters before he deposited his wrister far-side to make it a 5-3 contest after 40 minutes.
Team USA found its first three-goal lead of the night with a tic-tac-toe power-play tally three minutes into the third. Smith worked his magic between a pair of defenders and got the puck to Perreault at the left crease. He one-touched it to Carey Terrance (Akwesasne, N.Y.) on the doorstep for a tap-in score.
Jesse Kiiskinen answered the score for Finland, batting in rebound chance from the air 10 seconds later to push the score to 6-4.
The U.S. added an insurance goal from Perreault with 4:46 to play with help from Smith and Leonard for the 7-4 lead.
With less than a minute to play, Leonard found the back of the net to make it a final 8-4 off a pass in the low slot from Perreault.
Team USA rounds out preliminary-round action Tuesday night as it takes on host Switzerland. Puck drop is slated for 4:00 pm local (10:00 am ET) and the game will air live on NHL Network.
NOTES: Will Smith (Lexington, Mass.) was named the U.S. Player of the Game with one goal and four assists in the contest … The U.S. outshot Finland, 33-31 … Team USA was 2-for-3 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill.