MUSKEGON, Mich. - Cutter Gauthier (Scottsdale, Ariz.) netted his third hat-trick of the season and Logan Cooley (Pittsburgh, Pa.) tied a season-high with five points as the U.S. National Under-18 Team topped the Muskegon Lumberjacks, 8-4, Friday evening at Mercy Health Arena.
Gauthier used some flash to give Team USA a 2-1 lead at 3:43 of the opening period. He raced in alone down the left wing and was denied on his first attempt. Gauthier picked up his own rebound, and from behind the net, put a no-look shot into the crease that banked off goaltender Aleksandr Kuleshov and in for the U18s' second lead of the night. Cooley and Tyler Duke (Strongsville, Ohio) collected helpers on the score.
Gauthier made it a pair just 15 seconds into the second period when he potted a second-chance opportunity after Cooley was denied on the original attempt. Lane Hutson (North Barrington, Ill.) made a great play at the blue line to keep the puck in and extend the offensive possession for the U18s.
Gauthier completed the hat-trick, doing so in back-to-back games against Muskegon, when he collected a loose puck in the slot late in the third period and fired in for his NTDP-leading 30th score of the season.
U18 forward Jimmy Snuggerud (Chaska, Minn.) gave Team USA a lead just 41 seconds into the game. Collecting a pass from Gauthier in the slot, Snuggerud evaded a Lumberjacks defender and rifled a wrister off the post and in for an early 1-0 lead. Cooley took the play into the offensive zone to pick up an assist on the opening score.
Muskegon's Ben Strinden backhanded a second-chance shot past Tyler Muszelik (Long Valley, N.J.) less than a minute later to tie the game, but the U18s responded with a pair before the close of the period.
After Gauthier's first, Frank Nazar (Mount Clemens, Mich.) doubled the USA lead when he jammed his breakaway attempt through the legs of Chase Clark with 5:58 remaining in the first. Hunter Brzustewicz (Washington Twp., Mich.) won a puck battle in the corner and got the puck to Paul Fischer (River Forest, Ill.). The U17 call-up flipped a lead pass high in the air that Nazar ran down and finished shorthanded for the 3-1 lead.
Gauthier collected his second early in the middle frame and Jake Braccini cut the lead to 4-2 for Muskegon right after.
The U18s answered with a Will Smith (Lexington, Mass.) marker near the halfway mark of the game. Tyler Duke (Strongsville, Ohio) chased down a dump-in and snapped a long lead pass to Smith. He drove the right wing and fired a shot from the right circle that beat Clark over the blocker to extend the lead to 5-2.
Cooley added another for Team USA on a ridiculous individual play for his 17th goal of the campaign. A pass from Ryan Leonard (Amherst, Mass.) put Cooley in the offensive zone where he danced around a Muskegon defenseman and put a lightning-quick deke on Clark before roofing his backhand attempt for the score. Duke earned the secondary assist, giving him his first multi-point effort of the season.
The two sides traded a pair of goals apiece in the final period. Braccini collected his second of the night, but Ryan Chesley (Mahtomedi, Minn.) scored 14 seconds later after carving up the middle of the ice and putting his backhand through the five-hole of Clark. The goal was the defenseman's sixth over his past six games.
Gauthier completed the hat-trick to extend the lead at 11:24 and the Lumberjacks' Jake Richard tallied late for the 8-4 final.
Muszelik manned the net all night for the U18s and finished with 31 saves as he extended his record to 18-4-2 on the year.
The two sides are back in action tomorrow night for Game 2 of the weekend series. Puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m. from Mercy Health Arena in Muskegon.