U.S. junior hockey team plays Sweden for gold

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 4, 2013 - 9:08 PM

Three U.S. coaches and two players are Minnesotans.

After one-goal losses to Russia and Canada in the preliminaries, the United States has rallied at the World Junior Championships and is one victory from its second gold medal since 2010.

The United States, coached by Minnesotans Phil Housley, Mark Osiecki and Grant Potulny and including state players Mike Reilly and Mario Lucia, plays Sweden at 7 a.m. (central time) Saturday in Ufa, Russia.

The game is televised live and on tape-delay at 7 p.m. on NHL Network.

"We're halfway home," said Potulny, a Gophers assistant. "You almost want to stay in the moment here a little bit so you don't start planning ahead too far because there will be plenty of time to celebrate if we do, in fact, win the game [Saturday]."

The big victory came in the semifinals when the United States beat favorite Canada 5-1 as Jake McCabe and Johnny Gaudreau had two goals apiece and John Gibson made 36 saves.

"I think game by game we're getting better and better as a team and that's just what we need coming into the gold-medal game," said Reilly, the Gophers' superb-skating freshman who is the defense partner of Connor Murphy. "We had to create chemistry between one another.

"We're all used to playing on different teams -- almost every guy, so in a quick tournament like this with only about seven games, it does take a bit of time to come together as a team. I feel we're there now."

Reilly said the U.S. will have its "hands full" with Sweden. The Americans beat Sweden 3-2 in overtime in an exhibition game in Finland, but neither team played its full lineup.

Sweden beat Russia in a shootout to advance to the gold-medal game.

"That game was like a track meet," Potulny said. "The pace of that game was crazy. The Swedes are probably the best team here at protecting the puck. It's almost like keep-away. You've got to find a way to shut them down because otherwise, they're going to hold onto it and hold onto it and hold onto it.

'You can't puck watch because the moment you leave a guy open, they're going to make a play because they've got skill."

Lucia, the Notre Dame freshman who is the reigning CCHA Rookie of the Month, hasn't played a shift as the 13th forward the past two games, but he has a refreshing attitude.

"Any kid would be dying to be in my shoes right now, to be here and be at this tournament," said Lucia, the son of Gophers coach Don Lucia. "I'm thrilled to be here. We're winning and that's all that matters.

"When you look at it 10 years down road, you're not going to know who scored the goals, they're just going to know you were part of the team that won. Hopefully, we'll win gold on Saturday."

As Reilly said, "It would be awesome. ... I know a lot of people are watching and rooting for us. It would be great for our country."

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