Gunnarwolfe Fonatine scored the winning goal in overtime after tying the score late in regulation to propel Team USA to a 5-4 win over the Czech Republic on Monday at the under-20 World Junior “A” Challenge. Fontaine, a Northeastern University recruit who plays for the Chicago Wolves of the United States Hockey League, intercepted an errant pass in the neutral zone and broke in alone on goalie Jakub Dobes, who stopped the first shot but was unable to thwart Fontaine’s follow-up attempt that snuck under his pads.
The Americans took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Sean Farrell and defenseman Mitchell Miller. The Czechs rallied to take the lead in the middle frame with three unanswered goals. Winger Ondrej Psenicka got them on the board with a power-play goal just 49 seconds into the period, and Marcel Barinka scored at 7:30 and 14:21 to give his team a 3-2 advantage. The lead would be short-lived, however, as hard-working forward Trevor Kuntar scored off a pretty feed from behind the net from Josh Groll with just under five minutes left in the second.
The two nations remained deadlocked well into the final stanza until the Czech Republic’s Robin Vsetecka scored on a breakaway with 5:08 left in regulation. The Americans kept the heat on the Czechs from that point forward, and Fontaine finished off a lengthy possession inside the opposing end with a wrist shot that went off the post and in with only 2:27 left.
Dobes made multiple highlight-reel saves throughout the match and finished with 32 saves. Brendan Brisson paced the attack for the Americans with three assists.
G Jakub Dobes Omaha, USHL | 6’4, 203 | 5/27/01 | NCAA: Ohio State
A big-bodied netminder with excellent post-to-post speed and a strong backside push, Dobes came into the tournament as the Czech Republic’s backup, but his play against a high-powered and relentless American attack spotlighted his potential as a full-timer. Committed to Ohio State University, Dobes plays for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. A butterfly goalie like most of his peers, Dobes stops on a dime and recovers quickly when pucks are zipping across the low slot, but he also keeps his feet planted after his initial push and limits unnecessary footwork. He will challenge shooters well beyond the blue paint, and his retreat on breakaways is timed to force the shooter to make the first move. During cycle play, Dobes displayed excellent near-side coverage and the occasional RVH with his stick flush on the ice once the puck went below the circles. He didn’t seem to expose too much on the blocker side, even when crouched low or planning to thwart an odd-man situation. This is where his size comes into play, but we’ve seen bigger goalies lose the net and get beaten short-side high with regularity. The American lineup boasted several sharpshooters, yet less than a handful of the attempts made from the flanks or inside the dots were aimed towards his blocker. He did, however, face over a dozen chances low and to the glove side, and Dobes was able to steer most into safety. His glove positioning seemed liked a mix bag, which is common for teenagers under duress, but he seemed to favor keeping it clawed close to his body with his palm facing up. He gobbled up multiple chances from within 10 feet and was able to use his stick to swat away most of everything he put in front of him. The Czechs did a good job allowing him to see most shot attempts and second-chance points in the low slot or near the goalmouth were few and far between (Fontaine’s OT winner notwithstanding). He didn’t handle the puck often, but when he did he displayed strong wrists and was able to muscle the puck well away from any danger areas.
LW Ondrej Psenicka Waterloo, USHL | 6’6, 201| 1/7/01
A scoring winger with very good vision and an excellent shot-release, Psenicka played on the Czechs’ scoring line with Marcel Barinka down the middle and hulking Adam Klapka on the opposite flank. He always seemed built for the North American game, even when he was lighting up the Czech junior circuit or played on several national junior teams. Psenicka has ideal size and displays strength on the puck, but he’s quite nimble and knows how to maintain control while keeping his head up and making a drive into traffic. It’s easy to assume that a big winger with a very hard shot would rely on his centers to do most of the heavy lifting to feed him chances near the goal, but Psenicka can fulfill the role of playmaker, which has helped a shoot-first center like Barinka tally multiple times off the pass. He manned the low slot on the top power-play unit, but his feet are quick enough to slip away from coverage at the exact moment the puck is moved closer to the goal. Psenicka is no stranger to physical play and he can be a load to handle along the boards. He gets involved on the forecheck but takes smart routes to meet a puck carrier before he crosses center. His nondescript stats with Waterloo (4 goals, 4 assists) may have more to do with new surroundings or the cultuarl change, because he has maximized his abilities against some of the best Junior “A” players in North America.
A hard-working center with tremendous balance and a fearless approach, Kuntar is a buzzsaw in all three zones and plays with a ton of exuberance. He’s a very good skater in all aspects — speed, agility, acceleration, edgework — and it is quite common to see a bigger defender or a double team make little progress trying to remove him off the puck or slow him down. Kuntar is an accurate shooter with a quick release who can create his own shot from just about anywhere inside the opposing end. He’s an inside player with confidence who puts the right touch on his passes, and he purposely skates into traffic to draw attention before slipping a no-look or lead pass that catches a teammate in stride. His courage under intense pressure is evident the way he can attempts high-percentage plays on the doorstep with bodies collapsing towards him. He can play in any situation and is a reliable penalty killer. He scored a huge goal by one-timing a centering feed from Josh Groll, but Kuntar initiated the play by controlling the puck and luring the defender to chase him before dumping it off to his point man and making a dash for the slot. Kuntar, who is committed to Harvard University, is the son of former Montreal Canadiens goalie Les Kuntar.
RW Alex Laferriere Des Moines, USHL | 5’11, 172 | 10/28/01 | NCAA: Harvard
A dual-threat winger with an advanced processor to augment his effort and physicality, Laferriere is a tough customer who plays with energy and is willing to do whatever it takes for his team. Originally committed to West Point before switching to Harvard, Laferriere is one of the USHL’s top-scoring draft prospects and consistently is a noticeable presence on the ice. He refuses to quit on a play and will sacrifice his body while diving to break up a pass or get in the way of a point shot. On the puck, Lafreniere is a powerful north-south skater with very good acceleration and can stickhandle cleanly through the neutral zone and into the opposing end. He works in concert with his linemates’ intentions, and they consistently look for him to slip into the high slot with the hammer cocked to bring his howitzer to bear. Laferriere is engaged at all times and is a threat to telegraph a lazy pass and turn it into an quick counterattack. On the rush, Laferriere is a sound decision maker with a soft touch who limits the amount of low-percentage shots or forced feeds from the wing.
A nimble skater and calming presence under pressure, Reid served as one of Chicago’s stoppers in all situations last season but thus far has played with more assertiveness and flair to his game. Part of that is being paired with prized 2021 draft prospect Owen Power, whose smothering style and responsible play has allowed Reid to take chances deep into opposing territory, almost as if he were a fourth forward. Whether in league play or for Team USA, Reid utilizes all aspects of his skating and puck handling to trap pressure or have them heading in the wrong direction. Reid may be a gambler, but he also can play a very clean game from his side of center, using quick decisions and positioning to contain, and rapid movements and reads to pressure. Reid definitely likes to keep the puck moving forward, and his first pass is consistently delivered on the tape with no hesitation. He has no problem taking the puck right into traffic and lure forecheckers towards him before ladling a timely lead pass through their legs. He plays on the power play and manages possessions with efficiency, especially when he’s working with Team USA’s or Chicago’s big guns up front.
A WJAC returnee and a consistent scorer at the club level, Caponi is a double-overager who took one for the team by slotting into a bit of a checking role that he has played to perfection. He is very aggressive off the puck and will forecheck with physicality and tenacity, especially as Team USA’s center on their lead penalty-killing unit. He has a high motor and reacts quickly to directional changes, and Caponi also understands his importance to remain a contributor even at the end of a long, tiring shift. He’s a bit of a hunched skater with a clean stride and above-average straight-line speed, and his balance looks strong whenever he’s either static or moving forward. Caponi always seems to be involved in the action along the boards or behind the net and he shows little regard for the fact that he’s one of the smaller players on the ice. Caponi plays with a lot of fire in his belly and never backs down from a challenge, and the dislocated shoulder and torn labrum that ended his season last year has not changed his approach. He’s committed to the University of Denver.
Canada-West 1, Russia 0 (SO)
Matthew Davis posted a 25-save shutout and Massimo Rizzo scored the clinching goal in the shootout as Canada-West outlasted Russia 1-0 on Wednesday at the under-20 World Junior “A” Challenge. Yegor Guskov was saddled with the hard-luck loss despite stopping all 31 shots he faced in regulation and overtime.
A graceful puck rusher with a high compete level who rarely turns down a chance to initiate and complete a breakout on his own, Edwards looks incredibly smooth and confident with the puck while using rapid directional changes to sidestep pressure and enter the zone unmolested. If there’s an opening of any kind, Edwards, on or off the puck, will look to exploit it. He spends a lot of time below the circles in order to keep plays alive and his decisions rarely put him in a compromising situation. He makes up for a lack of upper body strength during board battles and slot coverage but using an active stick and jumping on errant passes, but the name of his game is offense. Edwards owns a very good shot that he keeps low and on net, but he also fools pressing forwards with slap fakes and shoulder jukes. He was drafted by the Portland Winter Hawks in the WHL draft but is committed to Michigan.
LHD Yan Kuznetsov U.Conn, HE | 6’3, 206 | 3/9/02
A big, rangy defender with physicality who covers a lot of ground with fluid movements in all directions, Kuznetsov is a bit of a rarity as he’s a first-year draft eligible playing in the NCAA who isn’t a late birthday. After familiarizing himself with the North American game as a depth defender with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede, Kuznetsov has seamlessly transitioned to Hockey East, where he is one of the top scoring freshman defenders in the conference. His biggest contribution on offense comes in the form of joining the rush and unleashing a heavy and accurate shot, but Kuznetsov also goes end to end thanks to a clean, powerful stride and impressive acceleration. His vision, creativity and pass accuracy are average, but he’s good at eluding pressure and playing keep-away long enough until forward support arrives. Kuznetsov is not a classic power-play quarterback, but his mobility, handling of tough passes, and howitzer from the point can help any team during the man advantage. Kuznetsov is a cerebral teenager without the puck and has the potential to be a high-impact player on defense, and he can be deployed to clear the crease, disrupt opposing cycles, and keep lines of sight clear for his goalies. He normally is very good at defending the rush, and is composed and decisive in one-on-one situations. Kuznetsov also excels at breaking up entry attempts outside his own line, and his speed and reach allows him to loosens his gap rather than misjudge the oncoming puck carrier’s speed. There’s no longer a rawness about his puck skills, as his hands are quite soft, plus his agility and speed for a defender his size is enough of a foundation to build on.
#WJAC: Yan Kuznetsov in a nutshell. I can justify being too low on him in July but no way in December. He’s been this smooth and calm for UConn against stud NHL draftees. Credit to those who looked past the “raw” tag and saw a highly-intelligent, poised kid who can mash you. pic.twitter.com/zPLLffWWw9
#WJAC: OT was fantastic. Everything you want. Kent Johnson, Vasily Ponomaryov among several taking advantage of the open space. Kuznetsov got in the way of several chances. He’s a vacuum cleaner and check out this one-arm shove.
C Marat Khusnutdinov SKA-1946, MHL | 5’11, 176 | 10/22/01
A high-octane center who is confident on the puck and demands it when the stakes are high, Khusnutdinov is a shifty east-west pivot who is one of Russia’s most creative teenage playmakers. Whether for the under-18 team or for SKA-1946, he does most of the heavy lifting on the power play and can shift the momentum in his favor by jumping into passing lanes for immediate counterattacks into opposing territory. He may not be big in stature, but he more than makes up for it in confidence, leg drive, balance, and tight-quarter quickness. Khusnutdinov plays with an edge and is willing to sacrifice his body at the off chance he decides to chip and chase. A 50/50 puck battle against him is no laughing matter, and bigger defenders have paid the price by underestimating his core strength, leg dirve and powerful shoulders. At the forefront of his game, however, is his ability to carve up a defense through the neutral zone. Khusnutdinov has excellent speed and agility, and his quick first step is dropped before an opponent can anticipate his intentions. Khusnutdinov delivers the puck through the tiniest of windows with surgical precision, but he also is excellent at executing or orchestrating give-and-go’s, weaves, cycles, and backdoor plays. He spent most of the match on an all-skilled line with wingers Daniil Guschin and Alexander Pashin, and all three imposed their will with frequency.
#WJAC: You have to get up pretty early in the morning to slow down C Marat Khusnutdinov, even when he’s on the PK. Big stop by Matt Davis to keep it scoreless in the third. pic.twitter.com/SXkjPwsF8Q
RW Alexander Pashin Tolpar, MHL | 5’8, 154 | 7/28/02
They say good things come in small packages, and when he’s on his game, there aren’t many draft-eligible wingers as excitable as this Russian goal scorer. A shifty finisher with a deadly shot and nasty release whose east-west style is similar to some of Russia’s more notable forwards, Pashin continues to maintain the momentum he generated from a fantastic Ivan Hlinka tournament in August. He is a key cog and top-line winger for Russia’s under-18 squads, but he does far more than score. Pashin keeps his feet moving and reads plays extremely well. He’ll get involved on the forecheck; plays aggressive on the penalty kill, and use his lower-body strength to drive opponents off the puck. Regardless of whether he scores or not, Pashin will get his fair share of clean looks, although he has flubbed or whiffed on several Grade-A chances in between the hashmarks. Like Marat Khusnutdinov, Pashin is a threat in the chip and chase, not only because his quickness helps beat defenders to the desired spot, but also for his snap thinking and vision that can create bang-bang chances intended for a cutter darting down the slot.
#WJAC: Wild sequence and both teams go back and forth in a scoreless 1st. Alexander Pashin hits Marat Khusnutdinov in stride and his shot is stopped by Matt Davis, then Massimo Rizzo cuts inside for a shot and Alex Young pokes home a loose puck but the ref whistled it dead pic.twitter.com/KUQSQy4yty
A hound in all three zones who is one of the more excitable players you’ll find in his draft class, Gushchin has spent the last two seasons in the USHL and it clearly shows in the way he competes hard and plays physical. Intelligent on or off the puck, Gushchin contributes on special teams and in late/close situations. He routinely is summoned for big penalty kills and will treat the on-ice disadvantage as an opportunity to make life a living hell for the other side. He is an very fast skater with multi-directional quickness, but Gushchin stays disciplined by keeping his stick and body positioned properly without cheating himself. On the puck, Gushchin shows impressive skills and decision making within the attacking zone and on the rush. His passes are delivered with confidence, accuracy, and authority, and it is a common occurrence to see defenders backing in way too deep and affording him too much time and space to exploit. A reason for this is Gushchin’s speed and trickery, and he’s been in the USHL long enough for opposing coaches to acknowledge his elusiveness when faced with a defender stepping up. Like several other Russian first-year eligibles listed under six feet tall, Gushchin plays bigger than his measurements and is very difficult to knock off the puck.