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Feature - Team USA Enters Playoff Round at U18 Championship

04/25/2013, 4:15am MDT
By Chris Peters

The U.S. looks forward to its matchup with Sweden, the second seed out of Group B. Don Granato, head coach of Team USA, shares his thoughts on the game.


Team USA finished round-robin play with a 2-0-0-2 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record. Photo courtesy of HHOF-IIHF Images.

The U.S. National Under-18 Team is headed into the playoff round at the 2013 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Under-18 Championship. After finishing the preliminary round with a  2-0-0-2 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record, including one-goal losses to Russia and Finland, Team USA gets a fresh start in the quarterfinals.

With the U.S. finishing third in Group A, it will meet Group B’s second-place finisher, Sweden, at Shayba Arena at 4 p.m. (8 a.m. EDT) in the quarterfinal Thursday (April 25). This will be Team USA’s first experience in Shayba, which will serve as the secondary hockey venue at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The game will be broadcast on FASTHockey at USAHockey.FASTHockey.com.

Unlike previous years, where the top team in each group earned a bye to the semifinals, eight of the 10 teams in the tournament play in the quarterfinals, with the remaining two – Latvia and Slovakia – playing in the relegation round.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP NOTEBOOK

For the first time since 2008, the U.S. National Under-18 Team lost two games at the World Under-18 Championship. While it was some unexpected adversity, it is something the team can use as an important learning experience.

“I think the preliminary round, it took us a while to play our own game -- to settle down, not get wound up or off track on the hype of the tournament and the hype of everything else that comes with it and just play our game,” said Team USA head coach Don Granato.

“We finally settled in against Finland, outshooting them by a large margin, only to score one goal. So that was frustrating to play our style and do what we wanted to do exactly and come up just short. You’ve got to learn from it and have to make your adjustments as a team.”

“Based on that, moving into [the playoff] round, I think we feel very good,” Granato continued. “You go into these events and it’s about getting better, believe it or not.

“You learn so much because the pressure is so high. I think we’ve learned that.”

The U.S. and Sweden have developed quite the Under-18 rivalry over the last several years. At each of the three most recent World Under-18 Championships, the two squads have squared off in the gold-medal game, with the U.S. coming out on top all three times. That makes Thursday’s meeting the fourth consecutive year the U.S. and Sweden will meet in the playoff round in the tournament.

Though most of Team USA’s roster was not part of any of the previous gold-medal match-ups against Sweden, there’s still a lot of familiarity between the two squads. Both have squared off multiple times in previous international events this year: twice at the Four Nations Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich. and most recently at the Five Nations Tournament in Jonkoping, Sweden this February.

“I like the match-up against Sweden,” Granato said. “It’s a team we’re very familiar with and we’ve had some success against. I like that match-up.”

Though Granato likes the match-up for his club, he expects a challenge from Sweden, especially with the Swedes coming off a disappointing 6-0 loss to Canada in the final preliminary round on Tuesday (April 23).

“They’re not going to be happy after their loss to Canada,” he explained. “They know they’re going to have to elevate their game.

Having a track record against Thursday’s opponent helps with confidence and expectations.

“The match-ups we’ve had against them have been very hard-fought games,” Granato said. “They’re familiar with us. That will make this a fun game to watch because you’ve got two very intense and talented teams.”

After two tough losses in the preliminary round for the U.S., Granato feels his team has to find another level to get past a very good Sweden squad.

“The challenge for us, we played well against Finland and lost, we’ve got to figure out how to play better,” he said. “For us, through the course of the last couple of years [at USA Hockey's National Team Development Program] our guys have responded well to that, so I expect that [Thursday].

“At the end of the day, it comes down to execution. We really feel that. We’ve had success against this team, we know this team. It's time to focus and do what we need to do to win.”

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