Whitehall's Gibson leads Team USA past Canada, into gold medal game
Gold is within grasp of four Pittsburgh hockey prospects.
Team USA will face Sweden at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia. NHL Network will broadcast the game live at 8 a.m. Saturday.
On the strength of 36 saves by Whitehall's John Gibson, the United States routed rival Canada, 5-1, in a semifinal Friday.
“The thing I tried to do was just play my game and not over think it,” Gibson said after stopping 15 of 16 third-period shots.
“It was a total team effort.”
Team USA forward and Upper St. Clair native Vince Trocheck said his goaltender was down playing a performance consistent with his dominant tournament. Gibson has surrendered eight goals while recording a .955 save percentage through six games. He turned aside 67 of 69 shots in two games against Canada – the tournament favorite with a top line of all NHL players led by 2011 first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“He is an unbelievable goalie, probably one of the best in the world for his age,” Trocheck said of Gibson. “He bailed us out so many times, and I know he can do that again in the next game.”
Sweden, the 2012 World Junior Champion, won a shootout against host country Russia, 3-2.
The Russians and Canadians will resume their heated historical rivalry in a bronze medal game Saturday at 4 a.m., also to be broadcast on NHL Network.
The Americans will shoot for a third goal to go with titles in 2004 and 2010. Team USA's last medal was a bronze in 2011.
In addition to Gibson and Trocheck, Team USA also features Coraopolis' J.T. Miller and Washington's Riley Barber.
Friends watching at home awoke early for the 4 a.m. start. They were rewarded with two assists from Miller and an assist each from Trocheck, Barber and even Miller.
“We probably don't have the biggest group of fans here in Russia,” Barber said. “There were a lot of Canada fans in the crowd. But when you look at all the texts we had waiting for us, and you see all the reaction from people back home on Twitter — yeah, we know we have support.”
Scott Harrington, a top Penguins defenseman prospect, was selected as Canada's top player for the semifinal loss.
Trocheck said the Americans were confident “we had the better team” than Canada, even though Team USA had lost a group stage game, 2-1.
Team USA has finished ahead of Canada in only four World Junior Championship tournaments, and the rivalry at the junior level is especially intense because so many American prospects spend formative years playing for teams in Canada.
“You could probably say we think they are cocky,” Barber said. “We respect those guys, but playing in Canada you see them on all the commercials. It gets to be a little much.
“You know coming into this tournament you have to beat Canada if you want to win it. That's the reality. We just did that, so now we have to settle down and focus on finishing this.”
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-380-5635.