Mikey Anderson (Roseville, Minn./University of Minnesota Duluth) and Evan Barratt (Bristol, Pa./Penn State University) each scored third period goals as the U.S. National Junior Team defeated Slovakia, 2-1, in its opening game of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"That game was far from perfect, but good teams have to find ways to win tough games and this team did that here tonight," said Mike Hastings, head coach of the 2019 U.S. National Junior Team. "If we pay attention to the little things, get all lines rolling, a lot of the challenges we created for ourselves here tonight will get cleaned up. Tomorrow we'll address some detail, regroup and look to put together a good 60 minutes of hockey the next game."
The U.S. (1-0-0-0/W-OTW-OTL-L) continues preliminary round play on Friday (Dec. 28) against Kazakhstan. That game, along with every U.S. tournament game, will be televised live on NHL Network.
The game opened with both teams generating chances as U.S. goaltender Kyle Keyser (Coral Springs, Fla./Oshawa Generals) and Slovakian netminder Samuel Hlavaj both stood tall.
Jack Hughes (Orlando, Fla./U.S. National Under-18 Team) generated the first big chance of the game in the first five minutes of play. Using a smooth power move to cut around a Slovakian defender, Hughes threw a shot on net that generated a rebound opportunity by the attempt from Tyler Madden (Hartford, Conn./Northeastern University) was pushed aside and away from goal.
Midway through the period, the U.S. generated its next scoring opportunity on the powerplay when Jason Robertson (Northville, Mich./Niagara IceDogs) rifled a shot from the top of the circle that was blockered away by Hlavaj.
Slovakia’s best chance of the period came off the stick of Filip Krivoski as Keyser was forced to sprawl from post-to-post to close down on Krivoski’s angle as his shot hit the post.
A late U.S. powerplay with 1:22 to play in the frame saw Team USA push for the game's opening goal but both teams entered intermission scoreless.
The second period saw the U.S. take control right from the opening faceoff. With players digging for a loose puck at center ice, Robertson was able to corral it and skate in uncontested for a breakaway opportunity that was turned aside by Hlavaj's right pad.
Five minutes later, the U.S. saw another pair of chances just miss as Madden's backhanded effort went wide and moments later Oliver Wahlstrom (Quincy, Mass./Boston College) saw his shot padded away.
With eight minutes to play in the frame, Keyser was called on again as a loose puck found its way to a Slovakian defender for a chance that Keyser was able to absorb.
The U.S. really began pushing for a goal with five minutes remaining in the period as Barratt unleashed a one-timer from the slot that generated a flurry of chances in a one-minute span that almost resembled a power play.
Despite the push and control of play, Slovakia was able to capitalize first when Marek Korencik converted on a 3-on-2 rush by slipping a shot through Keyser's legs for a 1-0 lead they carried into the second intermission.
The final stanza opened with the U.S. earning a powerplay just 45 seconds into the frame. Just 35 seconds into the man advantage, Jack Hughes collected a rebound attempt and found Anderson at the blue line for a shot that beat a screened Hlavaj to tie the game.
Less than five minutes later, Barratt put the U.S. up, 2-1, with a nifty backhand goal. The eventual game-winning goal started in the corner where Barratt emerged with the puck and curled towards the slot before beating Hlavaj high glove side.
Barratt almost added another goal with eight minutes remaining, picking up the puck in the slot and firing a shot on net, as well as the rebound.
Slovakia had its best chance to equalize when Adam Liska was awarded a penalty shot with 6:45 remaining. Keyser squared up on the oncoming Liska and threw his pads down low to deny Liska's low corner attempt to keep the U.S. up, 2-1.
With a one-goal advantage, the U.S. closed down over the final five minutes of play to seal the victory and claim its 12th-straight tournament opener in an IIHF World Junior Championship.
NOTES: Forward Evan Barratt was tabbed U.S. Player of the Game ... The U.S. outshot Slovakia, 34-14, went 1-for-3 on the powerplay and killed off both of its penalties. For complete game statistics, click here ... John Vanbiesbrouck (Detroit, Mich.), assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, is serving as the general manager of the U.S. National Junior Team ... The U.S. enters the tournament having medaled in three straight World Junior Championships for the first time in U.S. history after earning gold in 2017 and bronze in 2018 and 2016 ... NHL Network is the official U.S. broadcaster of the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. For more information about the tournament, click here.