Well, this is it, everyone. After months of selection camps and hand-wringing, it's all come down to this Gold Medal Game between Team USA and Team Sweden. Regardless of the outcome, the Ducks organization still wins. 2011 first rounder Rickard Rakell and 2011 second-rounder William Karlsson are representing Team Sweden, and 2011 second-rounder John Gibson is Team USA's #1 goalie. But as a fan of American and NCAA hockey, I hope that John Gibson and Team USA can pull out a win tomorrow. (Also: Did you know that all five of Team USA's goals against Team Canada were scored by college hockey players? That's pretty awesome.)
Many World Juniors watchers (aka Canadians) wouldn't have anticipated a USA-Sweden final. Even though the Swedes are the defending champions, they have been hampered by injuries, including one to our own Hampus Lindholm. Yet, they have done more than persevere; they haven't lost a game yet. Team USA struggled during the preliminary rounds and was inconsistent in pool play. But now, they are the Seattle Seahawks of junior hockey, heating up at the right time. Many doubted if Phil Housley had what it took to lead a team of this caliber (he's a high school coach), but his shrewd line adjustments and willingness to limit the ice time of stars and underperformers (like Alex Galchenyuk and Rocco Grimaldi, respectively) have turned his doubters into admirers.
Gibson is arguably the star of the tournament, but Team USA's defensive corps has been remarkable. Seth Jones - projected to be a top five draft pick in 2013 - has been responsible, but Jacob Trouba (drafted 9th overall by Winnipeg in 2012) has been a revelation. Trouba is known as a punishing defensive defenseman, but he's generated a ton of scoring chances for Team USA (and will probably receive some 'Best Defenseman' hardware at the end of the tournament). Team USA (generally) has a stronger D corps than Sweden, and Jones, Trouba, and their compatriots will have to be sharp tomorrow. In order to win, Team USA will have to limit their penalties. The Swedish power play is lethal.
The performances of Rakell and Karlsson have not been as revelatory as Gibson's, but they are contributing: Rakell has earned five assists in Sweden's campaign, and Karlsson has scored three. While our boys are always a threat, I'd encourage AC readers to pay close attention to Filip Forsberg and Sebastian Colberg (especially Colberg).
PROJECTED TEAM USA LINES
20 Blake Pietila – 18 Cole Bardreau – 21 Ryan Hartman
23 Rocco Grimaldi – 25 Vince Trocheck – 22 Tyler Biggs
12 Mario Lucia
19 Jake McCabe – 3 Seth Jones
27 Patrick Sieloff – 8 Jacob Trouba
35 John Gibson
30 Jon Gillies
Scratched: Garret Sparks
(Stick tap to Chris Peters at The United States of Hockey).
Good luck, Ducklings. All of you.