PRAGUE, May 16 – It’s been over 80 years since the United States men’s hockey team played in the championship game of the International Ice Hockey Federation tournament. That streak won’t end this spring. U.S. goalie Connor Hellebuyck (St. John’s/AHL) made 26 saves but Russia beat the Americans, 4-0 with four goals in the third period to advance to Sunday’s gold medal game against undefeated Canada.
Team USA (7-2) will play the Czech Republic at 10:15 a.m, ET for the bronze medal. The game will be available online on NBC Sports Live Extra.
“The final score wound up 4-0, but it really felt like a 1-0 game,” said Todd Richards, head coach of the 2015 U.S. men’s national team. “I’m proud of our guys and the way they played. It was a heck of a hockey game between two very good teams. Unfortunately for us, we came out on the short end.”
Russia is the defending IIHF world champion and they have won four of the last seven world titles (2008, 2009, 2012, 2014). The U.S. hasn’t won this tournament since 1933 – one of the longest droughts in international sports.
Still, the Americans are looking to win their second bronze medal in the last three years. They won bronze in 2013. “I think we really want to play [for bronze],” said Hellebuyck. “Any medal is a good medal. We want to make our country proud and get bronze.”
Avon’s Ben Smith, a forward from the San Jose Sharks, had one shot on goal during 19 shifts in the game. He had scored a goal in the previous two games for the Americans.
Team USA nearly opened the scoring just 2:36 into the contest when Milford’s Mark Arcobello (Arizona Coyotes), one of three Connecticut players on the squad along with Smith and Farmington’s Nick Bonino found Jimmy Vesey (Harvard) alone in front for a chance that was turned aside by Sergei Bobrovski. The duo created another scoring chance with 8:25 remaining when Arcobello again found Vesey in front for a shot that was deflected wide.
Three minutes later, Steve Moses’ (Jokerit) wraparound chance deflected off Matt Hendricks (Edmonton Oilers) and bounced in the crease before being swept away.
With 38 seconds remaining in the opening period, Russia’s Nikolai Kulemin sent a centering feed to Evgeni Malkin for a quality scoring chance that forced Hellebuyck to make his best save of the period.
The teams traded chances early in the second frame, but neither was able to convert. Russia’s best opportunity came eight minutes into the period when Ilya Kovalchuk fired a one-timer from the left circle that Hellebuyck was able to cover.
The U.S. controlled play for the last seven minutes of the period beginning with a chance from Jack Eichel (Boston University). Eichel entered the zone on the right side and fired a shot on net that forced Bobrovski to give up a rebound to Anders Lee (Boston University) whose chance hit a skate and went wide. Four minutes later, Vesey found the puck in front for a backhanded effort that was blocked by a body in front.
With less than two minutes remaining, Eichel created two more chances that were turned aside by Bobrovski. After his first attempt from the right side hit Bobrovski high in the chest, Eichel skated around the net and found the puck near the left circle for another chance that the Russian netminder was able to hold.
Despite entering the third period outshooting Russia, 23-21, it was Russia who opened the scoring.
With 12:41 remaining in the final period, Sergei Mozyakin skated in and fired a shot from the hash marks that beat Hellebuyck glove-side. Three minutes later, Alexi Ovechkin (Washington Capitals) collected the puck at the point, cut inside, and fired in a low shot to give Russia a 2-0 lead.
Dylan Larkin (Michigan) nearly brought the U.S. within one a minute later while shorthanded. Hendricks won the puck in the left corner and fired a pass to a rushing Larkin who was unable to beat Bobvroski high left side.
Vadim Shipachyov made it 3-0 on a rebound attempt with 4:32 remaining and Malkin scored an empty-netter with 1:25 remaining to finish the game.