The United States, after beating Sweden 4-0 on Thursday to secure the top seed in Group B, will play Slovakia at 9:30 p.m. Saturday in the quarterfinals of the World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
"Now the real tournament begins," U.S. coach Nate Leaman said. "We really got to zone in and now is the time."
The U.S. opened the tournament with a 5-3 loss to Russia but has won three straight since. A year ago, at this same point in the tournament, the Americans lost to Finland and eventually finished sixth. The last year they won the gold medal was in 2017.
Now the goal is a fifth in this international event with the world's best under-20 players.
"Everybody has found chemistry," said Bobby Brink, a forward for Denver and a Minnetonka native. "Everybody knows if they work hard the guy next to them will be, too. Obviously, taking a hard loss last year, just stay urgent. It's a one and done. There is no room for mistakes."
The U.S. has the leading scorer in the tournament in forward Trevor Zegras with six goals and seven assists for 13 points. The team's other top scorers are defenseman Cam York (1-5-6) and forward Matthew Boldy, the Wild's first round pick in 2019 (4-1-5).
Spencer Knight had the shutout against the Swedes, making 27 stops. He has two wins in the tournament, a 1.58 goals-against average and a 93.4 save percentage. Slovakia's Simon Latkoczy also has among the best goalie statistics with a 1.94 GAA and a 93.3 save percentage.
The U.S. has the top power play (6-for-15, 40%) and the top penalty kill in the tournament (0-for-5, 100%).
"Coach has been harping on being able to dictate plays and dictate pucks," forward John Farinacci said. "If we stick to our game plan and play that way, we will be fine."