United States 4, Denmark 1
New York (The Draft Analyst) — Auston Matthews and Sonny Milano each had a goal and an assist as the United States defeated Denmark 4-1 on Thursday at the world junior hockey championship in Helsinki.
The United States (3-1) clinched second place in Group A behind Sweden, and will face the loser of today’s game between the Czech Republic and Finland in the quarterfinal round beginning Saturday. Brandon Halverson, a second round pick of the New York Rangers in 2014, stopped 16 of 17 shots to pick up the win. Team USA outshot the Danes 44-17. Denmark (1-3) finished fourth and and will meet Russia,
Matthews, who had two goals and two assists on Wednesday to lead the United States to a 10-1 thrashing of Switzerland, tied the score 1-1 with 2:56 left in the first period after he hammered a centering pass from Colin White into the net. Milano gave them them a 2-1 lead for good when he tapped in a loose puck to the left of Danish goalie Mathias Seldrup at 4:02 of the second period.
Matthews picked up an assist when his shot from the point was tipped in by Matt Tkachuk at 5:40 of the third. Milano, a Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick, helped close out the scoring at 7:43 of the final frame when his pass to Anders Bjork was redirected past Seldrup.
Both Matthews and Tkachuk are both eligible for the 2016 NHL draft, with Matthews currently the consensus top pick. Matthews, an Arizona native who plays professionally in Switzerland, finished the preliminary round with a team-best four goals and four assists in four games.
LW SONNY MILANO (Columbus 1st/2014): Milano smartened his game up after some questionable decisions with the puck since the tournament began. He also took the puck to the net, which he wasn’t doing during Team USA’s first three games. The amount of skill this kid has is apparent at first glance, and we don’t just mean his stickhandling. Milano has very good vision — the question is why he fails to use it consistently. He can be the best player on the ice when he applies himself, and we saw that against Denmark. His set up to Bjork was an indicator of his hockey sense, as he bypassed the option to shoot a low-percentage shot with a shot/pass to the low slot for a deflection.
LHD ZACH WERENSKI (Columbus 1st/2015): You can make the argument that Werenski went from being Team USA’s least reliable skater in 2015 to its best this year in Helsinki. He didn’t figure in the scoring against the Danes, but he unloaded six shots on goal (17 in four games) and needed Seldrup to make an outstanding save to rob him of what would have been his third goal of the competition. Games like today makes you understand why some thought Werenski was (and still is) the best defenseman in terms of upside from the 2015 draft. He movements are fluid, his passes are on the tape, and his rushes up the ice are reminiscent of a wide receiver dancing around flat-footed defenders.
C AUSTON MATTHEWS (2016 Draft Eligible/1997): It’s bad news for the rest of the competition now that Matthews has gotten into his comfort zone. I mean, it’s not like he ever left it to begin with, but he toyed with the Danes the same way he schooled the Swiss. His positioning is amazing for somebody who wants the puck on his at all times. It’s no coincidence that there wasn’t a shift in either the Swiss game or today where he didn’t touch the puck and keep it for an extended period of time. Great players can think two and three (sometimes four and five) plays ahead of the action, and Matthews is clearly this tournament’s most clairvoyant. He’s recorded a multi-point game in three of the first four contests.
RHD LOUIE BELPEDIO (Minnesota 3rd/2014): Belpedio is a very good offensive player who has displayed creativity and patience. The other side of the puck has been trying, as he’s been guilty of forcing passes and missing assignments. His turnover — as brutal as you can get — led to Denmark’s only goal, but a critical opening goal nonetheless. He settled down thereafter, and picked up his first assist of the tournament on Milano’s go-ahead tally. Brandon Fortunato is a similar player to Belpedio but has looked far more comfortable in his own end than the latter.