The four local products on Team USA’s roster in the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia – John Gibson, J.T. Miller, Vince Trocheck and Riley Barber – played a big part in helping the Americans to a semifinal berth in the tournament, where they will battle Penguins prospect Scott Harrington and Team Canada on Thursday at 4 a.m. Eastern time.
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The U.S. soundly defeated the Czech Republic, 7-0, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday to get the matchup with Canada, who earned a bye to the semifinals after going a perfect 4-0 in group play. Gibson made 31 saves to get the shutout. Miller had one goal and two assists while Barber scored twice.
On Monday, Trocheck led the U.S. with two goals and one assist in their final preliminary round game, a 9-3 victory over Slovakia – which was a must-win for the Americans in order to advance to the medal round.
Overall, Gibson has been having a stellar tournament for Team USA. He is the anchor of a strong U.S. defense, which has allowed a tournament-low seven goals. Gibson has started all five of Team USA’s games, leading all goalies with an impressive 1.51 goals-against average and ranking second with a .950 save percentage.
Miller, an alternate captain for the U.S., is tied for third in team scoring with six points (2G-4A) in five games. Barber is right behind him with five points (3G-2A), while Trocheck has been dominating the faceoff circle with a 66.1-percent success rate (62-41) through five games.
The Penguins' own Steve Mears will call Thursday's game against Canada, which will be broadcast on the NHL Network and streamed live on NHL.com.
A couple of notes heading into the semifinals...
The United States National Junior Team continued its offensive assault on the competition for the second straight game Wednesday on the way to a 7-0 victory against the Czech Republic in quarterfinal-round action of the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
The win enabled the United States to advance into the semifinal round against rival Canada on Thursday at Ufa Arena at 4 a.m. ET (NHL.com, NHLN-US, TSN). Canada, which beat the Americans 2-1 in preliminary round action, won Group B to earn a bye into the semifinals of the medal round.
In victories against Slovakia on Monday and the Czech Republic on Wednesday, the United States has totaled 16 goals.
"We'll enjoy this victory [over the Czech Republic] a little bit, but know Canada is a very good hockey team," U.S. coach Phil Housley said. "They're undefeated in this tournament for a reason, and we'll have our hands full but our guys will be ready."
John Gaudreau notched the hat trick -- the first for an American at the WJC since Austin Watson's natural hat trick last year. Gaudreau, who was named the U.S. player of the game, has five goals in the past two games after going scoreless in the first three preliminary round contests for the United States.
Additionally, Riley Barber scored twice, Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba each had four assists, J.T. Miller had a goal and two assists and goalie John Gibson made 31 saves in the triumph. Gibson, who sports a 1.51 goals-against average in five appearances at the WJC, made 15 saves in the second when the Americans scored five times to open a commanding 6-0 advantage.
The United States finished the game with five power-play goals, picking up where it left off in the final preliminary round victory against Slovakia on Monday when they struck for four goals with the man advantage.
"The difference in the last two games is that I feel we're getting more challenging shots at the net than usual," Jones told NHL.com. "The goalie doesn't see a lot of the shots that are going in and guys are doing a good job of standing in front of his face.
"But the power play has been going well too. We've been moving the puck around nicely and everyone is rotating and getting shots to the net. Gaudreau has really stepped it up the last few games, putting in pucks when we really need it. We're going to need that from here on out."
U.S. coach Phil Housley seems to have found the right combination on the power play with Gaudreau and Vince Trocheck working the wings for Miller on the top unit.
The victory certainly wiped out any memory of the 2012 WJC, when the Americans suffered a 5-2 preliminary round loss to the Czechs behind Petr Mrazek's 52-save performance. That loss knocked the United States from participation in the medal round.
The United States tied a tournament high for goals in a period with five in the second against the Czech Republic. The team connected for five against Slovakia in the opening period of a 9-3 triumph on Monday.
Barber and Gaudreau each scored twice and Ryan Hartman also fired in a goal during the offensive outburst in the middle period. Gaudreau's second of the period, a power-play marker off a cross-ice feed from J.T. Miller with 12.8 seconds remaining, was his third of the game.
All three of Gaudreau's goals were scored on the power-play as the United States connected for five power-play goals on 12 attempts in the contest. The AmerIcans have nine man-advantage goals in the past six periods.
"I got a couple bounces my way with three power-play goals," Gaudreau said. "We're moving the puck on the power play and a lot of my goals were easy tap-ins, so I have to thank my teammates for that."
Gaudreau connected for his second power-play goal of the game just 28 seconds into the second after collecting a deflection from Trouba and jamming home a shot at the right post to give the Americans a 2-0 lead.
"Any time you can score the first goal and set the pace, it's important," Housley said. "I liked our start from beginning of the game and our power play was clicking again.
"In the second half [of the game], we were disciplined and we talked about that with the players at the first intermission. We knew there was a lot of hockey to be played and we have a big game against Canada [on Thursday], so we addressed [discipline] and guys did a great job of it."
The United States was whistled for four of its nine minor penalties in the opening 20 minutes of the game.
Hartman gave the United States a 3-0 lead off a big rebound in the left circle after Trouba's initial slapper from the right circle wasn't controlled by Czech goalie Patrik Bartosak. The goal forced Czech Republic coach Miroslav Prerost to pull starter Bartosak 1:08 into the second and insert backup Matej Machovsky.
Barber then hit two straight. His first came on the power play, off a splendid assist from Alex Galchenyuk at the 8:44 mark. Galchenyuk took a pass from Trouba and skated down the slot to draw two defenders before feathering a pass to Barber storming into the right circle. Barber's goal was his second of the tournament.
Barber, a sixth-round (No. 167) draft pick of the Washington Capitals in 2012, then scored off a breakaway just one second after the United States had successfully killed a power-play chance by the Czechs. Jones sprung Barber into the open ice down his right wing before he skated in and put a backhand under Machovsky.
"It's not too often I get four assists in a game," Jones said. "I have to credit to teammates for putting the puck in the net when I give it to them."
Gibson, who was forced to make two big stops for the Americans on Tomas Hyka and Tomas Hertl in the second, had 23 saves through two periods. The shutout was the first complete-game blanking the Anaheim Ducks prospect has produced in the tournament. Gibson split a shutout with backup Jon Gillies in the tournament opener against Germany.
"John Gibson has been the backbone of us in this tournament," Jones said. "When we needed him to make the big saves, he steps up and makes them. Even in a big win [against Czech Republic], this momentum could have easily swayed, but he made some big ones. He was strong in our losses to Canada and Russia, too. He's been outstanding and we need him to continue to do that."
Gaudreau completed the hat trick in the second when he took a feed from Miller at the right post before whipping home his second of the period with 12.8 seconds left. Miller scored the seventh goal for the United States 4:08 into the third when he deflected a big blast from the point by Trouba. Miller took prime position in the slot and before redirecting the puck past Machovsky.
The United States played the game with six defensemen as Shayne Gostisbehere served a suspension for one game for the slashing major and game misconduct he was assessed against Slovakia. Gostisbehere will return to the lineup Thursday against Canada.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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