Team USA overcame an early 2-0 hole to defeat Slovakia in their first game of the 2010 WJC tourney by a score of 7-3.
I thought the five minute penalty to start the game was an atrocious call, but Slovakia took advantage, beating goalie Mike Lee twice to take the early lead after Jason Zucker finished his check on a Slovak player. It appeared that both players' heads collided and then, when the Slovak hit the ice, his helmet cut him in the face. Dazed and bleeding, he left the game and the Russian ref made what I would deem a "convenient" call on a hockey play that was not illegal, just unfortunate. Of course, the ref made things worse by calling the wrong player (Tyler Johnson), so it was a bit of a Keystone Cops moment for the officiating.
However, the U.S. team roared back and seized control of the game and tempo after John Carlson's point blast got them on the board.
Cam Fowler, the defenseman who tops many B's fans' wishlists for the 2010 draft, looked pretty good last night. He has a long, loping stride and seems to see the ice very well. On one U.S. two-man advantage in the third period, he worked the puck adroitly at the point and had several shots on net. He has a low, hard shot that he has a quick release on. Defensively, he has good recovery speed and seemed to make the right decisions with and without the puck. As always with television viewings, you can't see what happens behind the play, but he showed why he's been a top draft candidate since last season.
The Slovaks did not get great goaltending in this one, and once Cislak gave up a couple of stoppable shots to the Americans, the game changed rapidly in Team USA's favor.
Today, Team USA will face Switzerland and forward Nino Niederreiter, who has been one of the real pleasant surprises for the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL this season. He already plays a physical, aggressive North American-style game, and look for him to be active in all zones today. The game will be on the NHL Network at 4 pm EST today(Sunday), and then the U.S. team is off until Tuesday when they face Latvia, and then Canada on New Year's Eve. All games will be televised.
I also watched the Sweden-Czech Republic game yesterday, a lopsided 10-1 victory for the powerhouse Swedes. One player who really stood out for me was defenseman Adam Larsson, who is a 2011-eligible prospect and at age 16, is one of the youngest players to compete in the WJC along with other familiar names like Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Jason Spezza and Marco Sturm among others.
Larsson is a swift-skating, offensive-minded defenseman who moved the puck well and scored late on a bomb from the point. He seems to have all the goods, and former Bruin Dave Reid, who was doing the color commentary, said one NHL scout told him that Larsson is more polished than last year's No. 2 overall pick Victor Hedman, now playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Larsson is only 6-foot-2, so he's nowhere near as tall/big as Hedman, but he's fast, agile and appears to be the early favorite for top selection in 2011. Only one other player from Sweden, Mats Sundin, has ever been the 1st overall pick in the NHL Draft (1989).