Canadiens Prospects Jacob Fowler, Lane Hutson Pivotal In USA World Junior Win

2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Portraits
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Portraits / Terry Wyatt/GettyImages

Team USA took their 2-0 record into their matchup versus Team Czechia (1-1) on Friday morning.

A couple of notable players to keep an eye on for the Czechs are Jiri Kulich (3-2-5 totals) and Eduard Sale (3-1-4 totals). Both players heard their names called over the last two drafts. Kulich by the Buffalo Sabres with the 28th overall selection in 2022 - Sale was selected 20th by the Seattle Kraken in 2023.

The Americans are loaded with NHL-drafted players, and their squad is a great example of how to build a tournament juggernaut. Jimmy Snuggerud (St Louis Blues 2022 23 overall) and Gavin Brindley (Columbus Blue Jackets 2023 34 overall) are tied for fifth in tournament scoring. They have the same stat line - 4-1-5 totals).

Lane Hutson is a player I will keep a close eye on, he has no points yet, but that is unlike him. Jacob Fowler will get his second consecutive start against the Czechs. This game will have some nice Montreal Canadiens flavour.

First Period

With the game just 1:12 old, the Americans struck first on a beautiful passing play. Frank Nazar, Blackhawks 2022 13 overall selection, found Isaac Howard wide open, and the Tampa Bay 31 overall selection in 2023 labelled the twine with the biscuit. 1-0 lead for USA, Nazar has been brilliant through six-plus periods of tournament play - Eric Pohlkamp grabbed the secondary assist.

Czechia is playing on their heels, and the USA has been dominant through the first four minutes and change. Brindley showed his great centre of gravity and strength and drew a great penalty. Czechia has taken a lot of penalties but has not faced a power play like that of Team USA.

Brindley and Nazar have been very noticeable to start the game, and their speed has created havoc. Hutson activated on the power play, scanning and trying to manipulate. Czechia came up big on the kill. Michael Hrabal, the Czech netminder stood tall.

Nazar tried to make a move around Czech defender Ales Cech and got tripped. The USA is headed back to the man advantage. The Czechs are playing with fire, and the Americans could burn them soon if they aren't careful. Thankfully for them, their penalty killers came to play.

Fowler hasn't been tested much, but it appears that he was unhappy with his performance against Switzerland. He didn't play poorly, but he generally keeps a low goals-against average, so the three goals were tough to absorb. It's early, but he is searching for a stronger outing.

With 4:20 to go in the opening frame, USA defenseman Sam Rinzel got outskated and he was way out of position. Jakub Stancl beat Fowler with a nice shot and knotted it up to regain momentum. Dominik Rymon drew the lone assist on the tally.

Eric Pohlkamp to the box for slashing, and the Czechs get their first power play of the day. It has been all USA, however, Hutson played some time on the kill and nearly sprung Gavin Hayes on the breakaway. The USA killed off the penalty and looked keen on retaking their lead, but the clock ran to zeros before anything could materialize.

Second Period

After a strong first period, the Cutter Gauthier line with Rutger McGroarty and Jimmy Snuggerud controlled the puck in the Czech zone for close to 30 seconds. What a nice combo of skill, talent and speed that this trio presents. They didn't score, but they certainly kept Czechia hemmed in their zone.

Nazar to the box less than two minutes into the middle frame - two minutes or less for interference. USA's second penalty of the game, they killed of the first one - the Czechs had just one shot. Kulich ran the powerplay - his next goal will give him the IIHF all time goal scoring record for a Czech player. No bueno on the powerplay though.

Fowler was good on the kill, though the Czechs had just one high danger chance in the slot. Fowler made a great leg save - showing off strong posture and positioning. Another day at the office sort of save - he is so positionally aware, and confident in his game.

Straight after, Fowler got caught looking the wrong way, and the Czechs struck quickly. Matyas Sapovaliv made a nice pass to Adam Bares. Bares pulled Czechia ahead by one goal with just over 13 minutes to go in the period.

The Fresh Prince of USA Will Smith, worked a nice play with his Boston College linemates - Ryan Leonard and Gabe Perreault. Smith fired home a nice shot past Hrabal knotting the game up at two apiece. The USA's strength is in their depth, and I will take that to the grave.

With nine minutes to go in the period, the game was a bit back and forth. The pace, physicality and intensity of the game could be felt, as Craig Button put it best during the live broadcast on TSN. USA made another uh oh play, and Robin Sapousek one-timed a great pass by Sale - 3-2 Czechia.

The USA has been victimized by trying to do too much, instead of making the high-percentage puck play. Down 3-2 with seven minutes to play, the five deployed players were all pushing to score a goal. Lane Hutson found his defence partner Ryan Chesley jumping up in the play, and he did the rest. Tie game.

With under three minutes to play in the period, and the game tied, the intensity turned up a bit. Kulich has had a flurry of chances, but Fowler has shut the door emphatically. Hrabal and Fowler sort of played a game of one up, and they both went back and forth making key saves late in the period.

Third Period

Heading into the final frame of an important game, with each passing game becoming increasingly more important, it was all business. The Czechs and Americans had 20 minutes to steal the win away from one another. The tally would pull his club ahead and grab the momentum - which is equally as important as the goal.

I have a feeling that the opening tally of the period will end up being an important one. The game has been very tight, and I expect that the final period will be more of the same. If not, it will be even more tight-checking and stout defensively.

The tablets have been seen regularly on both benches, after each shift players are looking at video to improve things on the go. During the intermission the coaches are going through tapes as well. These games mean everything to the participants and that's why the tournament is always a success.

With 9:25 to go, the game was still at a stalemate, with neither goalie giving up much. Both teams have had little sniffs in the offensive zone, but it appears the message from both coaches was similar. Play tight defensively and don't cheat for offence, it will come as a reward from responsible play.

Hutson had a couple of sequences where he showed off his package of escape tools, head faking and pulling quick stick feints to manipulate open ice. He created a few chances, but Hrabal kept the affair tied at three. As the clock ticks closer to zero, the likelihood of their being a lone hero, rather than another goal trade-off series increases dramatically.

4:27 left to go in the period, and Nazar almost caught Shapovalov with a big body check entering the offensive zone at the blue line. Both teams aren't giving up much space, and are finishing their checks. In what has been a very competitive game, the importance of faceoffs and smart plays with the puck increases.

The game was in need of a hero, and regulation winding down to it's end. Both teams pushed hard, Hutson fired a shot on net late, but Hrabal saved it with 2.2 seconds to go. Overtime is upon us, after a scoreless third period.

To start the sudden death overtime period, the Americans iced Hutson, Snuggerud and Gauthier. Melovsky to the box for a high stick, power play USA, but nothing was solved after 65 minutes.

Isaac Howard won it for the Americans in the seventh round of the shootout. Fowler looked terrific stopping all but one of the Czechian breakaways and looked poised, calm and cool while doing it. A couple of saves were acrobatic leg stretches and a few were just confidently standing tall and not falling for dekes and head fakes.