I just want to say how awesome it was to actually watch live hockey again, despite having to wake up at 3 in the morning it was worth it to watch these young players battle it out and leave it all on the line. After all the blood, sweat and tears of the tournament two teams stood above the rest; Team USA and Sweden. The powerhouse and defending World Junior Champions team Sweden vs. the underdog Americans.
Going into the 2013 World Junior's not many people gave the Americans a fair shake at winning the tournament after their 7th place finish in 2012 and having
only 3 returning players on the roster. But defenceman Seth Jones believed in his team when no one else did stating "We're the best team!". People scoffed at his comments, but it turns out the draft-eligible defenceman was right- the Americans really were the best team in the 2013 World Junior Championships and to prove it they skated away with the gold medal.Team USA came into the tournament with little pressure, other than themselves no one expected them to make it to the medal round. But they worked hard and battled to the end in every game to advance to the semi-finals.
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Team USA celebrates after wining the 2013 World Junior Championships[/caption]
In the semis they beat a Canadian team that they had earlier lost to and surprised the Canadians who thought it would be a easy victory. The Americans earned their spot in the gold medal game. They then relied on strong goaltending and heroics from lesser known prospects to get them the win over the Swedes.
Besides goaltender John Gibson- who was hands down the best player in the tournament, the best player in the finals was American forward Rocco Grimaldi. At the beginning of the tournament the NCAA freshman had been placed on the Americans first line, then a few games later he found his butt glued to the bench after head coach Phil Housley benched him. After getting let out of the "dog house" Grimaldi did not disappoint scoring 2 big goals for the Americans in finals- including their first goal which gave them life and the go-ahead goal. After Grimaldi gave them the lead Gibson was able to shut the door the rest of the way, leaving Sweden stymied.
Now lots of things had to come together for the Americans to claim the gold medal- team chemistry, good coaching, staying out of the box, timely goals and timely saves. But the two of the biggest reasons they were able to capture their 2nd gold in 4 years is because they didn't have politics when picking their roster and the emergence of Gibson as a elite goaltender.
I touched about the lack of politics when picking the team in my last post, but it goes deeper than just cutting big name players. Housley showed faith in NCAA players and they didn't disappoint. Jake McCabe was an excellent captain leading the Americans to a win over rivals Canada in the Semi's and ranked
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John Gaudreau celebrates after scoring.[/caption]
3rd among defenceman with 6 points. For his efforts he was also named to the all-star tournament team. Next to McCabe, the biggest forward for the Americans turned out to be one of their smallest- John Gaudreau. Gaudreau had a fantastic tournament and really showed how valuable he can be to a team. Johnny hockey had 3 multi-point games in a row leading up to the semi's including 7 goals in 3 "must-win" games and led the tournament in scoring, proving it doesn't matter how "big" a player is as long as they can score! Of course we already talked about benefit that Rocco Grimaldi had in the finals, heck if it wasn't for his 2 goals the Americans may be wearing silver around their necks. Jones also stepped up playing a major leading role on the blue-line despite his inexperience, he showed maturity with the puck and may have solidified top spot in the 2o13 draft.
But the biggest story for the Americans was the play of John Gibson. When watching the Anaheim Ducks prospect throughout the tournament you just sit back and marvel at some of the big time stops he was able to make. Finishing the tournament with the best Save Percentage (.955) and Goals Against
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John Gibson makes a save in the finals against Sweden[/caption]
Average (1.36) which also gives him the highest Save Percentage of any American goaltender at the World Juniors. To say Gibson stood on his head would be
an understatement, he led the Americans to victory and stood tall against the opposition time after time. His play earned him tournament MVP, top goaltender and a gold medal. His play was somewhat reminiscent of Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller during the 2010 Olympics. The Americans were the underdogs in the Olympics much like this tournament but the strong play of Miller between the pipes led the team right to the gold medal match against Canada- closer to a gold medal than anyone thought the Americans would come. The only difference between the two is Gibson was able to lead his American squad to a gold medal where Miller fell just short in OT.
Congrats to team USA on winning gold in the 2013 World Junior Championships, it was a well deserved championship that reminded everyone never to count the Americans out.