Team USA coach Ron Wilson sat out Brett Hull on Friday night, the player becoming the highest profile of five changes to the American line up. The changes were seen as a wake up call to the team over the lethargic American play of late, a reminder that a work ethic is needed if they hope to advance in the World Cup of Hockey, and defend their title as World Cup champions.
So far, until Friday night, the American team had shown absolutely no jump in its first two games in the World Cup of Hockey. Thursday night’s match against the Russian team featured a flattering score and nothing but a frustrated and chippy American team, taking far too many penalties and not getting many chances in the Russian end. Theirs was a team relying far too much on goaltender Robert Esche, who had to bail them out of trouble time and time again. Two nights earlier, they sat back and watched the Canadians for almost two periods, surrendering much of the ice and a good portion of the play. They only got their game in gear in the third and at least made things a bit of a contest, thanks again to the stellar play of Esche, despite his play they would eventually go down to defeat against their arch rivals.
Both games highlighted a team that was showing its age a bit, with one of the older line ups in the tournament, the legs of the grey beards seem to be no match for the younger guns of the Canadian and Russian squads. Wilson chose to add some youth and put in the rested five to take the play to the Slovaks. The over worked Robert Esche got the night off from the nets as Rick DiPietro took over the goaltending duties for the night.
Now whether they were due for an outburst of offence or the moves by Wilson paid off, Friday night’s game against the Slovaks was a much better and more rewarding effort for Team USA. Brian Smolinski one of the additions to the USA game day line up paid back Wilson for his confidence with a goal in the first period, leading the Americans on to a much needed victory 3-1. Ladislav Nagy answered the Smolinski goal, to tie the game up in the first period. After that it was a rather close game, but by far the edge in play went to the Americans, Jason Blake on a controversial American goal, awarded after a lengthy review period. Bill Guerin finished off the scoring for Team USA in the third period.
This third game of the tourney for the Americans finally saw them take the play to the opposition. Slovakia which has been battered by injuries prior to the tournament and is one of the weaker entries, tried to get back into the game by the third, But the Americans with the prospect of their first win in their sights, never let up finally getting an insurance goal with four minutes to go in the third period.
With a win finally under their belt, the Americans will continue on with some renewed confidence as they move on in the Tournament. They have the weekend off now, as they wait for the Quarter finals to take place on Monday, with the win Friday, it’s their hope that they’ll be playing in St. Paul on Monday and not travelling to Toronto. The Americans realizing that they have to step up their game are hoping that Friday nights win will be just what they needed to get things untracked.