Momentum trumping rest for resurgent Americans
Thursday, 01.03.2013 / 11:32 AM
In a short tournament like the World Junior Championship, the common thought is every bit of rest is vital.
However, the United States showed Thursday that momentum trumps rest, beating Canada 5-1 in the semifinals while playing its sixth game in eight days.
The victory puts the United States in the gold-medal game Saturday (8 a.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN) against the winner of the Russia-Sweden semifinal.
American coach Phil Housley knew his team would have a daunting schedule at this year's tournament, and said preparations were made as far back as the summer as to just how his team would handle the rough road ahead of it in Ufa, Russia.
"We've been focused on getting the rest," Housley told NHL.com. "This goes back to August when we looked at the [preliminary round] schedule, four games in five nights, and we knew we had to be in outstanding physical shape. Once getting here, the focus has been on really resting our guys. Practice time hasn't been much. … We'll focus on what's important, and that's the games, and they [the players] have responded to that. As a player, rest and nutrition are really important. And they've done a great job of focusing and getting ready."
And on the rare days off, Housley said keeping the players off the ice to maximize their rest was the most important thing.
"The off days, because we played so much hockey in a short time, it's getting them up, moving around, getting treatment, ice and getting them [mentally] prepared for the game," he said. "We want the guys off their feet because our schedule, four [games] in five [days] and six in eight, it's very demanding."
The plan has worked perfectly so far, as the longer the tournament has gone, the better the United States has played. After a tournament-opening win against Germany, the Americans came back a day later only to sustain a 2-1 loss to Russia. After a day off, they lost again, this time 2-1 to Canada. But 24 hours later, with their medal hopes on the line, they routed Slovakia 9-3.
After a second day off they pounded the Czech Republic 7-0 in the quarterfinals, and a day later handed Canada its most lopsided defeat in a medal-round game since the current tournament format was adopted in 1996.
Canada entered the game with two days of rest after winning Group B and earning a bye into the semifinals. While the United States had to play for its tournament life, Canada had a chance to rest, relax and fine-tune its game plan.
However, it appears the rest did more harm than good.
"When you look at it, probably comes down to the start," Canada coach Steve Spott told TSN. "I think [Wednesday] we had a good day of practice, a good day of preparation, but ultimately the legs simply weren’t there in the first period and that cost us."
The Canadian players were at a loss as to why they were out-skated and out-played by what should have been a tired team.
"We've been focused on getting the rest. This goes back to August when we looked at the [preliminary round] schedule, four games in five nights, and we knew we had to be in outstanding physical shape." -- Phil Housley on Team USA's conditioning
"I can't explain it," Ryan Strome told TSN. "We liked where our game was after the Russian game. Maybe it's having that rest and they had the quarterfinal game. Seemed to happen to us last year. We had a good, hard practice [Wednesday] and there should be no excuses."
While the Canadians were searching for their legs, the Americans had theirs right from the drop of the puck. It started with a pair of American goals in the first period and then two more in the second as the United States took a 4-0 lead after 40 minutes.
"It was really big for us," J.T. Miller told NHL.com. "One of our main keys was to hop in on them and get the lead early so they could chase us. Getting two in the first and two more in the second was unbelievable."
They'll have one more day of rest before the gold-medal game, but don't expect the American routine to change.
"A lot of these guys are beat up and we need the rest," Housley said. "Moving forward it'll be much of the same. We'll go to the rink [Friday], get a stretch, get some treatment, get some ice -- a very casual day -- and then we re-focus for the game. It seems to be working. They've had the energy that's required to play against some really good opponents, especially the last three games against Slovakia, the Czechs and Canada. Those were key games and they were the right games to win. The rest has given us that edge we need going into those games."