HOCKEY: Juniors From USA Put “Pedal To The Medal Round”

​United States goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who plays for the OHL's Niagara IceDogs in the Canadian junior system, has turned away 54 of 58 shots faced thus far at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland ... photo courtesy Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

​United States goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who plays for the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs in the Canadian junior system, has turned away 54 of 58 shots faced thus far at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland … photo courtesy Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images

der Eishockeyzuschauer

ALLENTOWN, Pa

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So then, the less than great Danes were unable to take at least a point from their Baltic neighbors, the Swedes, on Wednesday and, therefore, the United States can not finish on top of Group A in the preliminary round robin at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championships in the Finnish capital city of Helsinki. This because even if Canada beat Sweden and the United States defeat Denmark on the final day of round robin competition, it is the Juniorkronorna that will claim first place by virtue of having edged the Americans in the head to head meeting this past Monday. Still, the United States will certainly want to take all three points from their match with the Danes by securing victory IN REGULATION TIME, thus ensuring that Americans clinch second place in Group A no matter how the Canadians fare against the table-topping Swedes.

Denmark, who do not have any players at all who have already been drafted by National Hockey League clubs, appear to have a daunting task in going up against the United States, who have no less than 14 NHL Draft picks plus a few more players (Matthews, McAvoy, Debrincat, Tkachuk) who could all very well become 1st round NHL Draft picks this summer. As a whole nation, the Danes are woefully inexperienced – this is only the fourth time in the entire 40-year history of the annual IIHF World Junior Championships that little Denmark are participating at the highest level of the competition. Last winter marked the very first time that Denmark actually survived a top shelf WJC tournament without being relegated to the second tier and this season will see the Danes get a quarterfinal game for a second consecutive year no matter what the result against the USA, so definite progress is being made in the land that produced former Lehigh Valley Phantoms defenseman Oliver Lauridsen.
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Denmark do have five players who skate for various clubs in the Canadian junior hockey system and another five players who play for the respective junior teams of various clubs in the Swedish elite league. And then there is Matias Lassen, the 19-year-old defenseman who regularly competes against grown men playing for IF Leksands in the Swedish second division. Lassen is one of seven Danish players who are returning from the 2015 WJC squad.
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Alexander True, the lanky 18-year-old who is in his second season of Canadian junior hockey with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, is the offspring of a former Denmark national team player who was a low end NHL Draft pick of the New York Rangers in 1986 and later skated three seasons in the old International Hockey League for the Flint Spirits, Albany Choppers, San Diego Gulls and Phoenix Roadrunners before going back to Europe.
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Denmark have had a very difficult time generating any meaningful offense to speak of, as one might imagine of a club who have generated a combined total of 42 shots on goal in three complete ice hockey games. The Danes mustered just 11 shots against the Canadians and only 9 shots versus the Swedes. Not surprisingly, the Danish attack has scored the meager total of just three goals all tournament long thus far.
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It is a little difficult to say whom the Danes will send in between the pipes to face the potent United States attack in Helsinki on Thursday. Thomas Lillie, the 19-year-old who plays for the junior team of Swedish elite league side HC Vaxjo Lakers, had a good game in the surprise win over Switzerland but was bombarded (43 saves) in the 5-0 loss to Sweden. Mathias Seldrup, the 19-year-old who tends the nets for IK Herning in the domestic second division, had 52 saves in the 6-1 loss to Canada.
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Lillie has the additional experience of having made two appearances for Denmark at the 2015 WJC last season but perhaps the junior national team coaches would prefer to let him rest up for the quarterfinals, which in all likelihood will be a game against traditional powerhouse Russia.
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United States head coach Ron Wilson might also send out his second string goaltender, Brandon Halverson, for the Americans’ final round round robin game against Denmark. The 19-year-old native of Traverse City, Michigan, the 2nd round pick (# 59 overall) of the New York Rangers at the 2014 NHL Draft, had been considered by many to be first choice for the U.S. in the months leading up to the tournament but probably lost that job when Alex Nedeljkovic, the 19-year-old native of Parma, Ohio, who was the 2nd round pick (# 37 overall) of the Carolina Hurricanes at the 2014 NHL Draft, performed so well against Finland in a pre-tournament exhibition game. Halverson, who did make one appearance for the United States in the 6-0 win over Germany at the 2015 WJC last winter, also got to play in roughly half of the Americans’ 10-1 demolition of Switzerland on Wednesday and stopped all 20 Swiss shots he faced.
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USA center Auston Matthews, the 18-year-old superstar in training from Swiss Nationalliga A side SC Zurich who had a monster game with two goals and four points at the expense of Switzerland, has, with six points (three goals) from three games, vaulted into a tie for fourth place on the 2016 WJC scoring chart alongside Sweden’s Alexander Nylander, the younger brother of the Toronto Marlies center who leads the entire American Hockey League in scoring at present … Matthews could be looking to pad his totals against a skidding Denmark squad.
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One player who has still not found the back of the net for the United States yet is Sonny Milano, the 19-year-old winger from the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters who was the 1st round pick (# 14 overall) of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2014 NHL Draft two summers ago. The native of Massapequa, New York, had two goals (and two assists) in five games for the U.S. at the 2015 WJC last winter but has “only” managed three assists in as many games for the Americans this time around. Perhaps a Danish team which has conceded a total of 106 shots on goal in its last two games is just what the goal-scoring doctor would order for Milano.
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The United States and Denmark have only ever met once previously at the annual IIHF World Junior Championships, during the 2012 tournament in Canada four years ago, with the Americans absolutely shelling the Danes 11-3 in a contest that was actually played on December 26th, 2011.


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

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1 reply

  1. Sonny Milano scores what proves to be game-winning goal for United States today.

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