TRENČÍN, Slovakia – The U.S. tallied four unanswered goals as the U.S Under-18 Men’s Select Team topped Slovakia 4-1 in pre-tournament action at the 2023 Hlinka Gretzky Cup Saturday at the Pavol Demitra Ice Hockey Stadium.
Slovakia opened the game’s scoring at 11:50 into the first period when Theo Kiss fired a shot past goaltender Kam Hendrickson (Carver, Minn.).
"I thought as the game went on our team game developed," said Luke Strand (Eau Claire, Wis.), head coach of the U.S Under-18 Men's Select Team. "Maybe in the beginning guys tried to do too much one-on-one by themselves but as time passed I thought we played more connected... I think it prepared us to understand we need to play harder against other countries in this tournament and continue to grow as a team."
Will Zellers (Maple Grove, Minn.) got the U.S on the board with a power-play goal 15:52 into the game. Alex Bales (East Amherst, N.Y.) sent the puck to Mac Swanson (Anchorage, Alaska) at the point who sent a pass across the zone for Zellers to bank into the net, putting the game at a 1-1 tie heading into the first intermission.
Tanner Henricks (Mission Viejo, Calif.)stopped a Slovakian breakaway early in the second period to keep the game tied.
Team USA took a 2-1 lead at 6:51 in the second period when John McNelis (Potomac, Md.) tapped in a rebound from Aidan Park (Playa Vista, Calif.) and Zellers. The U.S then successfully killed the lone Slovakian penalty of the period, heading into the final frame with a 2-1 lead.
Team USA opened the final period on a 5-on-3 advantage three minutes into the third period but were unable to convert.
Chase Stefanek (Yorba Linda, Calif.) extended the U.S. lead at 5:52 into the third period with a wrist shot from the bottom of the left circle. Frank Colin (Ladera Ranch, Calif) drew an assist on the play.
With just over three minutes remaining, Finn McLaughlin (Arlington Heights, Ill.) chipped the puck up the ice to Trevor Connelly (Tustin, Calif) who blew past Slovakian defenders with Eero Butella (Chicago, Ill.) on his wing. Connelly slid a pass across the crease for Butella to deflect into the back of the net, bringing the final score to 4-1.
NOTES: John McNelis (Potomac, Md.) was named Player of the Game for Team USA… Slovakia outshot the U.S. 26-21… Team USA was 1-2 on the power play, while Slovakia was 0-5… Team USA opens Hlinka Gretzky Tournament play on Monday, July 31 at 1 p.m. ET against Czechia. Game action can be viewed live on NHL Network.