Photo by Michael Caples
PLYMOUTH, Mich. - The U.S. National Under-18 Team used six consecutive goals and four points from Max Plante (Hermantown, Minn.) to take down Czechia, 6-2, in Team USA's third straight win at the Five Nations Friday evening at USA Hockey Arena.
The U.S. victory sets up a Championship Saturday tournament finale between Team USA and Sweden tomorrow evening. With any point in the standings tomorrow, Team USA will claim the Five Nations championship.
Czechia drew first blood with a shorthanded tally at 3:18 in the first stanza. Adam Benak, who collected his fourth point of the week, intercepted a USA pass and took advantage of open ice to make a move and score to put the Czechs up a goal.
The U18s stormed back to net a quartet of goals before the close of the opening period, beginning with the tying score a little over a minute later. Max Plante (Hermantown, Minn.) led Cole Eiserman (Newburyport, Mass.) down the left wing, where he buried a wrister from the bottom of the left circle. Cole Hutson (Chicago, Ill) picked up the helper for his first point on the evening.
James Hagens (Hauppauge, N.Y.) gave Team USA its first lead of the contest at 10:56, knocking one in from the crease after a Plante assist from behind the goal line. John Whipple (Minnetonka, Minn.) started the breakout with a crisp pass from the defensive zone to collect the secondary helper.
USA found their rhythm late in the frame, tacking on two more goals in a 22-second span to give them a 4-1 lead. First, it was Hutson who beat the Czechia netminder short side on the power play off a nice passing display from Hagens and Plante, who picked up his third primary helper of the period. The score was Hutson's 104th career point at the NTDP, giving him the all-time scoring record for a two-year defenseman.
Shortly after, Noah Lapointe (Hinsdale, Ill.) followed up with a rocket through traffic for his first marker of the season. Teddy Stiga (Sudbury, Mass.) and EJ Emery (Compton, Calif.) collected assists on the score, after Stiga's first attempt was blocked by a Czech defender.
U.S. captain Brodie Ziemer (Hutchinson, Minn.) extended the lead to 5-1 for the U18s 3:18 into the second stanza. Stiga patiently delivered an assist from the corner, and Ziemer fired one past Matyas Marik’s glove from the right circle, for his fourth score in three games at the Five Nations.
The U18s were not done, as they tallied another power-play goal at 9:37 of the third. Eiserman netted his second goal of the contest with a missile from the top of the hashes. Hagens and Plante facilitated the play, who sent Eiserman the puck from behind the net for Team USA's sixth straight goal.
Benak netted late in regulation for the 6-2 final.
Jack Parsons (Ithaca, N.Y.) finished with 19 saves to pick up the win, improving Team USA's record to 3-0-0-0 (W-OTW-OTL-L), while Marik and Bretislav Vystrcil combined for 27 stops in net for Team Czechia as they fell to a 1-0-0-2 record in tournament play.
Plante was named the Player of the Game for Team USA, while Benak earned the honors for Team Czechia.
Team USA will face Sweden on Saturday at 7 p.m. E.T. with the tournament title on the line. Tickets are available at USAhockeyNTDP.com/fivenations or by calling the box office at 734-453-8400.