LEWISTON, N.Y. - The U.S. National Under-18 Team erased a three-goal deficit, but could never regain the lead in an eventual 8-5 loss to the Niagara Purple Eagles Friday evening at Dwyer Ice Arena.
The Purple Eagles wasted no time finding the back of the net on home ice as Olivier Gauthier used a wraparound shot that Carsen Musser (Sherburn, Minn.) got a pad on, but Jason Pineo was there for the rebound for a 1-0 lead 28 seconds in.
The U.S. responded with a power-play score from Danny Nelson (Maple Grove, Minn.) five minutes into regulation. Oliver Moore (Mounds View, Minn.) made a nice play along the boards to send the puck down to Beckett Hendrickson (Minnetonka, Minn.) at the goal line. He went back up ice to Nelson, who one-timed his shot from the left circle to even the score.
Niagara used an impressive close to the period to take a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes. Josef Mysak danced around a pair of U.S. skaters before flipping his backhand shot by Musser to regain the lead. Drew Vieten fired in from between the hashmarks with 2:30 left in the period to extend the Purple Eagles lead to two.
Niagara netted first in the middle frame after an extended offensive-zone possession. Mysak took the initial shot from the right point and Vieten followed it for his second score of the evening.
Team USA used a heads up play from Charlie Cerrato (Fallston, Md.) to cut into the deficit just past the halfway mark of the period. Hendrickson left the rubber for Drew Fortescue (Pearl River, N.Y.) down the right wing. He traveled behind the net but dropped the puck for Cerrato, who fired off the goaltender's back from behind the goal line for his fourth point over the past three games.
Will Smith (Lexington, Mass.) intercepted a Niagara pass and shifted a quick pass to Ryan Leonard (Amherst, Mass.), who put his wrister through the five-hole to make it a one-goal game with 7:03 to play in the period. The assist pushed Smith's NTDP-record point streak to 20 consecutive games to begin a season.
After the Purple Eagles scored a power-play goal to go up 5-3, Team USA responded with a man advantage goal of their own to bring the score within one after 40 minutes. After Leonard's shot was blocked, Smith picked up the rebound, drove the net and put a perfect cross-crease pass on the stick of Gabe Perreault (Hinsdale, Ill.), who fired into an empty cage for his 16th score of the campaign.
Moore used a highlight-reel finish to bring the game back to even at 5-5 less than two minutes into the third period. The University of Minnesota commit went inside-out around a Niagara defender before he roofed a quick backhand shot from the slot for his 11th tally of the season.
With 8:41 left in regulation, Shane Ott broke in alone and after Musser negated the first attempt, Ott followed his own shot for a rebound score and 6-5 Purple Eagles lead.
Niagara added a pair of empty-net scores late in regulation for the 8-5 final.
While under duress for most of the night, Musser ended the game with 30 stops, his second most in a game this season.
The Under-18 Team is back in action tomorrow night a they travel to Rochester to take on the RIT Tigers. Puck drop is set for 5:05 p.m. ET from the Gene Polisseni Center.