Saturday, January 03, 2009

Cinderella Slovaks upsets United States at WJC

Wow. It may be shocking enough to hear Slovakia beat USA in the quarterfinals of the World Junior Championships. Perhaps even more shocking that it was a 5-3 score in which the Slovaks never lost the lead. But you had to see the game to realize what a stunner it was. (Highlights here.)

USA thoroughly dominated until the third period, when the Slovaks realized their carriage would in fact not turn into a pumpkin before the final buzzer sounded. Credit to the Slovakian team, who kept battling despite being out shot 47-18. Though the game was hardly back and forth action, it was a goaltenders duel.

Slovakia's Jaroslav Janus was undoubtedly the star of the game. His initial saves seemed more dumb luck, often leaving the netminder searching for his own rebounds. But as the game rolled on, luck turned to confidence and he made a number of big saves to win the game for his country. Janus called it "the best game of my life." An understatement if ever I heard one.

On the other end of the ice, USA's Thomas McCollum struggled. Perhaps a classic case of rarely seeing the puck, he let in 3 of 8 shots in the first period and 2 of 9 in the third. I wonder what the Red Wings think of their first round draft pick in pressure situations?

While there were many possible turning points in the game for USA - Jordan Schroeder's missed penalty shot in the first minute, Janus' glove save on Tyler Johnson, center ice turnover which lead to Tomas Tatar's empty netter - it was more than just a moment, it was surviving the second period which brought the Slovaks victory. Though they only managed two shots on net, Slovakia kept USA off the scoreboard. If USA had managed to get one, it would have been a different third period.

The upset clears the road for Canada on their "Drive For Five". They'll next meet Russia in the semis. USA plays Czech Republic for 5th place. And Slovakia has a shot at a medal. This could perhaps turn into an Eastern Bloc Miracle on Ice.

Props to James van Riemsdyk's third period goal in an otherwise disappointing game. It's up there with Pavel Datsuyk's backhander at the Winter Classic.



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