SPISSKA NOVA VES, SLOVAKIA - APRIL 17: USA's Maxwell Gildon #8 (not shown) celebrates with teammates after scoring a first period goal against the Czech Republic during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Gildon’s hat-trick keeps USA on top of Spisska group
Defenceman Maxwell Gildon scored three times and Jacob Tortora also had two points, as the USA beat the Czech Republic 5-2 in a wide-open game.
The Czechs were led by offensively by Jan Kern with two assists, in a game which saw three penalty shots and lots of power play time and odd-man rushes.
“I would say that it wasn’t our best game 5-on-5,” admitted U.S. coach John Wroblewski. “We really didn’t get to the grind or control the offensive zone like we need to, so there are certainly some things to work on.”
At their best or not, with nine points in three games, the Americans stay perfect and pull ahead of Sweden for top spot in the group, while the Czechs stay even with Russia - for now.
“We started well, but then for some reason we opened up the game too much,” said Czech coach Vaclav Varada.
The Czechs did come out of the gate hard, cheered on by a partisan crowd of 3856, and scored less than two minutes in when Ondrej Machala’s wrister from the high slot beat Dylan St. Cyr high to the glove side.
“You just try to look past it and play like it’s a 0-0 game all the time,” St. Cyr said about giving up an early goal. “I really don’t think it has a big impact. It happened a couple games ago against Russia as well. You just reset your mind and move on to the next shot.”
After that, St. Cyr stopped 24 or 25 shots the rest of the way.
“He’s our rock,” Wroblewski said of St. Cyr. “I think it was their first shot that went in - it was a great shot by their guy - but Dylan just continues to persevere.”
Ten minutes later the Czechs looked to double their lead on the power play, but instead Brady Tkachuk tied it on a shorthanded breakaway, making a nifty move to his backhand and sliding the puck under Jakub Skarek.
While still on the power play, Filip Zadina had a golden chance to restore the Czech lead right after the goal but hit the goalpost, but with the teams back at even strength the Americans took their first lead of the game when Grant Mismash found Gildon at the top of the slot, and he went high, glove side on Skarek.
“It was a great play by Grant coming in and giving me the puck,” Gildon described. “I just kinda shot it and did the rest.”
Of the team’s start, Gildon said of the Czechs: “They’re a good team and they came out pressuring us hard, and we just had to weather the storm and play the way we know how to play.”
The teams opened it up a bit more in the second period, combining for 25 shots on goal, including a penalty shot each way.
The Czechs got a third straight power play early in the period but it was the Americans who got the best chances with a pair of 2-on-1s that failed to convert. Then with the teams playing 4-on-4 Tortora put the Americans up by a pair, skating in alone on Skarek and beating him high to the glove side.
Midway through the period, Jan Hladonik had a chance to cut the Czech deficit in half when he was hooked on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot, but was denied by the blocker of St. Cyr.
“It’s just another shot - nothing special,” St. Cyr cooly said. “That’s how I think about it in my mind - there’s just no defenders.” As for three penalty shots in a single game, he laughed: “No, I’ve never seen that before, except in a shootout.”
Then a couple of minutes later, Gildon’s second of the game made it 4-1, after which Skarek was pulled from the Czech goal in favour of Jiri Patera.
“It was another 2-on-1 situation,” Gildon said of his second goal. “Logan Cockerill came in and faked a shot and gave it to me backdoor and I had an easy tap-in.”
“We had chances to score in the second period and didn't, and they capitalized on their chances. That was the difference,” said Varada. “A talented team like that, you can't make it that easy for them.”
After Ostap Safin’s backhander short side brought the Czechs back to within two, Michael Pastujov had a chance to once again increase the American lead late in the middle frame when he was awarded a penalty shot, but his attempt to go five-hole was denied by Patera.
"Patera played great,” Varada said of his back-up's performance. “Before the first penalty shot I decided to make the change, both for relief and to maybe throw the American goalie off. He seized the chance and played well.”
In the third period, Oliver Wahlstrom was given the game’s third penalty shot, but was denied by Patera, who stopped every shot he faced until beaten by Gildon’s hat-trick goal with exactly two minutes to play.
About the chance for the hat-trick, Gildon said: “It was in the back of my mind but we needed to keep the lead and that’s what we were focused on most.”
The Americans did hold on for the win, setting up a game on Tuesday where they need just a single point to finish first in the group. After that, in the group’s final game, the Czechs will face Russia with third place on the line.