GOTHENBURG, Sweden — Isaac Howard (Hudson, Wis./Michigan State University/Tampa Bay Lightning) netted the winner in the bottom of the seventh round of the shootout to help lift the U.S. National Junior Team to a 4-3 victory over Czechia in preliminary round play of the 2024 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship here tonight at Frolundaborg.
Howard gave the U.S. the lead just 1:12 into the opening period. Eric Pohlkamp (Brainerd, Minn./Bemidji State University/San Jose Sharks) chipped the puck out of the American zone up to Frank Nazar III (Mount Clemens, Mich./University of Michigan/Chicago Blackhawks) who took off on a two-on-one with Howard. He slid the puck across the slot for Howard who beat Czech goaltender Michael Hrabal five-hole.
The U.S. had a pair of power play opportunities in the first period but was not able to convert despite several good chances, including a one-timer from Jimmy Snuggerud (Chaska, Minn./University of Minnesota/St. Louis Blues).
Czechia leveled the score at 15:40 after Jakub Stancl put one home from the top of the crease after a feed from behind the net.
Adam Bares gave the Czech’s a 2-1 lead 6:23 into the second frame, but Team USA responded less than two minutes later when Will Smith (Lexington, Mass./Boston College/San Jose Sharks) netted a feed from Ryan Leonard (Amherst, Mass./Boston College/Washington Capitals). Gabe Perreault (Hinsdale, Ill./Boston College/New York Rangers) drew an assist on the play as well.
At 11:47, Robin Sapousek put a one-timer past goaltender Jacob Fowler (Melbourne, Fla./Boston College/Montreal Canadiens) for a 3-2 Czech lead, but the U.S. rallied less than three minute later when Ryan Chesley (Mahtomedi, Minn./University of Minnesota/Washington Capitals) sent a laser past Hrabal from the slate off Lane Hutson (North Barrington, Ill./Boston University/Montreal Canadiens) bumped the rebound of his own shot on goal out to Chesley.
Cutter Gauthier (Scottsdale, Ariz./Boston College/Philadelphia Flyers) nearly gave the U.S. the lead late in the final period, but his shot was blocked by a Czech defender.
With the score knotted at 3-3 at the end of regulation, the game went to a five-minute, three-on-three overtime period. The U.S. had a power play in the extra session and four total shots on goal, but was unable to capitalize.
The game went to a five-round shootout to decide the winner. With the Czechs up, 1-0, heading to the bottom of the fifth, Perreault sent the game to extra rounds where Howard beat Hrabal two rounds later shootout to secure a 4-3 victory for the U.S.
Fowler made 20 saves in the contest and stopped six of seven shooters in the shootout.
Team USA will play its final preliminary round game on Sunday (Dec. 31) against Slovakia. Opening faceoff is 12:00 p.m. local/6:00 a.m. ET at Frolundaborg and the game can be seen live on NHL Network.
NOTES: Lane Hutson was named the U.S. Player of the Game … Team USA outshot Czechia, 34-23 … The U.S. was 0-3 on the power play while Czechia was 0-2 … With the win tonight, the U.S. has secured one of the top two spots in Group B for the tournament’s quarterfinals. Slovakia currently holds the number one position in Group B with nine points, while the U.S. has eight. The winner of Sunday’s (Dec. 31) game between the two teams will earn the top spot in the group.