The group stage of the 2014 World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden concluded Tuesday. Team USA finished second in group A after the Americans blew a lead against Canada in their last preliminary game, and they will face Russia in the quarterfinals on Thursday as a result (six a.m. on NHL Network). Before the red, white and blue begin the knockout stage of their gold-medal defense, here’s an update on the Boston College-related happenings in Malmo:
Freshman defensemen Steve Santini and Ian McCoshen, along with freshman goalie Thatcher Demko, comprise the BC contingent representing the U.S. Demko has been the third goalie in every game behind Anthony Stolarz and Providence star Jon Gilles. Demko will, in all likelihood, be back at the tournament next year, so the experience should only serve to better his chances for playing time in 2015.
Santini, paired with University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher, has played his typical sound defensive game throughout the group stage. Only penalized once, Santini—also one of the United States’ top penalty killers—has managed to be one of the more physical players on the U.S. team while avoiding the costly mistakes that have plagued him at times during the college season. The Devils prospect has fared well on the bigger international ice surface and has maintained his characteristic stay-at-home defensive style, even scoring a goal in his team’s rout of Germany.
Santini’s best play of the tournament, though, came about halfway into the second period of the Canada game, when the offensive-minded Barber whiffed on a pinch in Canada’s zone and allowed for a 2-on-1 rush the other way. Canadian first line center and offensive wizard Jonathan Drouin led the rush, but Santini played the situation perfectly and took away the pass, forcing Drouin into a shot that Gilles turned away. The U.S. will need more of that from Santini, as he’ll be tasked with shutting down some of the top forwards in the knockout round. Santini—listed at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, a size only matched by McCoshen among U.S. skaters—is probably the most defensive-minded of the back-liners at head coach Don Lucia’s disposal.
McCoshen has gone pointless so far in the tournament, but his defensive partner—Bruins’ prospect and Boston University’s Matt Grzelyck—is tied for Team USA’s scoring lead with six points. McCoshen—normally active offensively—has often held back while his diminutive, speedy compatriot advances as a fourth forward of sorts. It’s noteworthy that Canada’s tying goal came when Gryzlyck was on the ice without McCoshen and was hemmed in the left corner by Canadian Connor Hudon—who, at 5-foot-10, would not have had the same impact on the big Minnesotan that usually patrols the left side of that pairing. The Panthers’ prospect has also been part of Team USA’s power play, which is producing at a tournament-high rate of 50 percent.
If the Americans were to advance past Russia, they would likely face Sweden in the semifinals. Then, if Team USA beats the host country, the most plausible gold-medal matchup would be against the rival Canadians.