U.S. 12 Latvia 1
SASKATOON — Earning convincing wins over opponents has been great for the United States, but they know their true test looms on New Year’s Eve against the host Canadians.
Chris Kreider scored a hat trick as the U.S. rolled to an early 6-0 lead and never looked back in a 12-1 victory over Latvia in Group A of the world junior hockey championships Tuesday.
“We got off to a really hot start,” said Jordan Schroeder, the lone U.S. player to have played in three world junior championships.
“We kind of had some bad habits in the second period, which tends to happen in these kind of games. We buckled down in the third and came out with a good win.”
At 3-0, the Americans now await Canada on Thursday in a game that will decide the winner of Group A. Canada moved to 3-0 after beating Slovakia 8-2 later Tuesday.
“That’s what our goal was, knowing the brackets and everything, to get to 3-0,” said American head coach Dean Blais. “That means we’ve had a good tournament up until we play Canada and whatever happens that game, happens.”
Schroeder tasted defeat in both of his encounters with Canada at this tournament — a 7-4 round robin loss last year and a 4-1 defeat in the semifinals in 2008.
Despite the American’s success in the round robin, which includes a 7-3 win over Slovakia and a 3-0 win over Switzerland, Schroeder knows the Americans are underdogs.
“You got to respect Canada because they’ve won five in a row,” said Schroeder. “We’re going to have to come in with a lot of heart and determination to win this game.
“Last year we had a little more skill up front. This year I think we got a little more grit, and grind it out type guys.”
Added Blais: “You’d like to say the pressure’s on them, but you know they’re the favourite and they got five gold medals to back up whatever happens.”
Against Latvia, Danny Kristo, a Montreal Canadiens draft pick, scored twice, while Jason Zucker, Tyler Johnson, A.J. Jenks (Florida Panthers) and Kreider (New York Rangers) also scored for the Americans in the first period.
To the delight of the Saskatoon crowd of 11,494, Latvian forward Givido Causs made it 6-1 during a two-man advantage for Latvia at 7:00 of the second period.
But any hopes Latvia had of regaining momentum were dashed just over two minutes later when Kreider scored his second of the game.
The U.S. (3-0, Group A) continued their offensive assault in the third.
Kreider scored his third on a penalty shot, Derek Stepan (New York Rangers) scored twice, Zucker scored his second and Jeremy Morin (Atlanta Thrasher) added one more late.
“We talked about the third period is going to be a carryover good or bad for the game against Canada and we wanted to make sure it was good,” said Blais.
Mike Lee made 18 saves in goal for the Americans, while at the other end Janis Kalnins stopped 50 shots.
Latvia drops to 0-3 and finish pool play against Switzerland on Wednesday.