PRAGUE, May 17 – Eleven players on the U.S. men’s national team were playing in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF) world championships for the first time – including Avon’s Ben Smith, a forward with the San Jose Sharks.
But this group of young men came together to win a bronze medal with a 3-0 win over the Czech Republic Sunday. The medal-winning victory comes less than 24 hours after the Americans fell to Russia in the semifinals, 4-0.
“The guys showed great character,” U.S. coach Todd Richards said. “This wasn’t an easy game to play. It was a tough, emotional loss last night against the Russians. But you could see the desperation and character we had from the guys who were blocking shots and diving in front of pucks.”
Nick Bonino of Farmington, one of three Connecticut players on Team USA, scored a goal and had an assist while goalie Connor Hellebuyck (St. John’s/AHL) made 39 saves to earn the win. Charlie Coyle (Minnesota Wild) also had a goal and an assist.
The win gives the United States (8-2) its second medal in the last three world championships – a feat they haven’t achieved since 1952. Team USA finished third at the 2013 world championships.
“This is a group that came together from the beginning,” said Smith, who scored two goals in 10 games for Team USA. “We’re excited to win the bronze medal. It wasn’t the medal we came for but it’s a great accomplishment for this group.”
Smith had the first American goal in the 5-4 overtime win over Slovakia and the first U.S. goal in the 3-1 quarterfinal win over Switzerland. He had 14 shots on goal and played about 10 minutes a game in his first appearance with Team USA and the national team.
Smith, Bonino (Vancouver Canucks) and Milford’s Mark Acobello (Arizona Coyotes) are all from Connecticut.
Bonino opened the scoring 7:22 into the first period when he batted a rebound past Czech Republic goalie Ondrej Pavelec. The play began when Coyle circled out from behind the net and found Brock Nelson (New York Islanders) entering the zone unmarked. Pavelec made the initial save, but Nelson was able to send a rebound attempt on net that bounced above the crease for Bonino to fire home.
Trevor Lewis (Los Angeles Kings) made it 2-0 for the U.S. with 1:47 remaining in the first period when he re-directed a centering feed from Jack Eichel (Boston University). Eichel won the puck in the corner, skated up the right wall, and circled back to shake off the defender and find Lewis alone in front for his third goal of the tournament.
The U.S. relied on Hellebuyck early in the second period after beginning the period shorthanded. Jan Kolar nearly got the Czech Republic on the board with a slap shot from the point, but Hellebuyck was there to make a sprawling glove save. Three minutes later, Hellebuyck was called upon again, this time robbing Martin Erat’s one-timer from the slot with a quick left pad save.
Bonino was given a double minor for high-sticking with 7:44 remaining in the period, but the U.S. was able to limit the Czech Republic to just four shots on goal during the four-minute man advantage. A minute after the penalty expired, Jiri Novotny was called for slashing to give Team USA its second power play of the game. Torey Krug (Boston Bruins) nearly connected with a one-timer from the right circle but Pavelec was there to make the save on Team USA’s best chance with the man-advantage.
“This team showed a lot of character on the penalty kill,” Richard said. “It wasn’t our best game but the guys played hard.”
Just nine seconds after the penalty expired, Coyle collected the puck above the hash marks and fired a snap shot past Pavelec to give the U.S. a 3-0 lead with 49 seconds remaining in the period. Coyle started the play when he intercepted a pass at the point and sent the puck down low to Bonino, who quickly fired a pass back to Coyle for Team USA’s final goal of the game.
Neither team was able to convert in the final period, with Hellebuyck making 15 saves to preserve the shutout.
NOTES: In the bronze medal game, Smith skated on 12 shifts and played 10:13. He didn’t get a shot on goal today. … Canada won the gold medal by defeating defending world champion Russia 6-1. … The U.S. won eight games in the world championship, the most of any U.S. team in a single men’s world championship …. Bonino was named the U.S. Player of the Game … Hellebuyck won seven games in the world championship, tying the U.S. single tournament record originally set by Ed Maki in 1939. .. Smith’s uncle Bob Lindberg, played for the U.S. men’s national team in three different world championship tournaments. The Minnesota native helped the U.S. get promoted to the A Pool in 1970 by virtue of a 7-0 record in the B Pool world championship that year. Among Lindberg’s teammates were Herb Brooks and Craig Patrick, coaches of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team. In 1971, Lindberg played for the U.S. in the top level world championship and in seven games contributed one assist. He joined Team USA for the final time in 1973 for the B Pool world championship, where the U.S. went 5-1-1 and finished second.