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U.S. Falls to Russia in World Junior A Challenge Semifinals

By USA Hockey, 12/17/15, 8:45PM MST


The U.S. Junior Select Team entered Thursday’s World Junior A Challenge semifinal as the tournament's highest-scoring squad. Opposing the Americans was Russia, which had allowed only one goal in tournament play. It was the proverbial something-had-to-give matchup, and ultimately, that something was defense, as Russia rallied to win, 7-4.

The Russian victory, its first in seven tries against Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge, dropped the U.S. (2-2-0-0) into Friday’s third-place game against Canada East, and also snapped the Americans’ run of three straight championships at the event.

Neither starting goaltender survived the opening 40 minutes of fire wagon hockey, leaving Kris Oldham (Anchorage, Alaska/Omaha Lancers) and Russia’s Mikhail Berdin to duel in the third period. Oldham was sharp, but two shots eluded him and they proved to be the difference as Russia broke a 4-4 tie, added an empty-net goal late and held on for the win.

It soured what was in many ways the strongest U.S. effort of the tournament thus far, a determined attack that amassed a 35-17 edge in shots on goal but couldn't contain the potent Russians (3-0-0-0).

"Our guys poured their hearts out for each other and for their country, playing a fourth game in four nights, and you can't ask for much more than that," said Cary Eades, head coach of the 2015 U.S. Junior Select Team. "But we made some fatigue errors and ran out of gas in the third period and Russia made us pay."

After falling behind 2-0 early, the U.S. roared back with first-period goals from Ross Colton (Robbinsville, N.J./Cedar Rapids RoughRiders) and Keegan Ford (Waunakee, Wis./Dubuque Fighting Saints). Russia answered early in the second, but Willie Knierem (Skokie, Ill./Dubuque Fighting Saints) notched his first goal of the tournament at 3:53 to once again knot the score. Max Zimmer (Medina, Minn./Chicago Steel) then struck to give Team USA a 4-3 lead, which held until the Russians tied it with 36 seconds remaining in the period.

At that juncture, the U.S. held a 30-8 edge in shots on goal, but Russia found another gear in the third, scoring three times to skate into Saturday’s finale against Canada West in Cobourg, Ontario.

Team USA now remains in Whitby, Ontario, where it will compete Friday for a ninth-straight top-three finish at the World Junior A Challenge. The Americans’ opponent, Canada East, fell to the U.S. 8-2 in a Dec. 11 pre-tournament exhibition. The teams haven’t met since.

Faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern Time at the Iroquois Park Sports Centre.

NOTES: Notre Dame prospect Andrew Peeke (Parkland, Fla./Green Bay Gamblers) was named the U.S. Player of the Game ... The U.S. went 1-for-4 on the power play; Russia was 2-for-4 ... Click here for complete game statistics … The 2015 World Junior A Challenge includes Canada East, Canada West, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Russia and the United States … The World Junior A Challenge is in its 10th year, and the U.S. is competing for the ninth time. Team USA has won six of the last seven tournaments, including the last three in a row (2008-2010, 2012-14) ... is live streaming games from the 2015 World Junior A Challenge.