From USA TODAY
New York Islanders forward Anders Lee has his own theory on why the youngest U.S. National Team players in recent memory has become the talk of the World Championships.
“Maybe they don’t know any better,” Lee told USA TODAY Sports. “All of them have been good players for a long time, and they just get thrown in the fire. It is fight or flight, and all they know is how to respond to these situations.”
With an average age of 22.7 coming into the tournament, the Americans (6-1) won their preliminary round group Tuesday by downing a talented Russian team 5-3.
Three times the Russians took a one-goal lead, and three times the Americans rallied to tie before Lee scored at 12:57 of the third period to put the Americans ahead for good. Brock Nelson (Islanders) scored an empty-netter to go along with his two assists in the game.
“We probably played as complete of a game as we have played in this tournament,” said U.S. coach Jeff Blashill (Detroit Red Wings)
The Russian team that the Americans took down included Evgeni Kuznetsov and Dimitry Orlov (Washington Capitals), Artemi Panarin (Chicago Blackhawks), plus Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay Lightning) among others.
“It was a good win, but we didn’t come here to win our group,” Blashill said. “The hard games are ahead of us.”
As a top-seed, the Americans move into the medal round where it will face the fourth-place team from the other group, either Finland in the quarterfinals.
Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames), 23, picked up two assists to give him 11 points in seven games. Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings), 20, scored to give him 10 points. He’s ninth among all tournament scorers. Sabres forward Jack Eichel assisted on the game winning goal.
“USA Hockey has done a great job of developing their younger players,” Blashill said. “Our pool is deeper. The second thing is these young players come into the NHL so physically and mentally ready to play.”
Kevin Hayes, who only recently joined the team after his New York Rangers were eliminated from the NHL playoffs, scored a pair goals for the Americans.
“He has given us more offensive punch,” Blashill said. “It gives us three good offensive lines, and a fourth line that is real good in terms of effort and ability to grind. Kevin also helps us have two power play units that are real dangerous.”
The Americans are trying to win their third medal in five years at this tournament, and this young group seemed to be overflowing from confidence from the beginning.
Hayes actively lobbied to play with this U.S. team
“I thought they had a great young team, and I thought they could do some damage in this tournament, and I wanted to be part of it,” Hayes said.