By Doug Graham – Kingston Whig-Standard
A day after the controversial cuts of two Ontario Hockey League stars, Team USA looked just fine in wrapping up its World Junior Championship pre-tournament play with a 4-0 victory over the Czech Republic.
Alex DeBrincat, one of the most feared goal scorers in the OHL, and Logan Brown, another star from the Windsor Spitfires, both received their walking papers Thursday from general manager Jim Johannson.
The moves send shockwaves through the OHL, particularly DeBrincat’s cut. He has scored 132 goals at the midway part of his third season with the Erie Otters. DeBrincat was also on last year’s Team USA squad, which took the bronze medal.
However, Team USA has depth to its program which Canadian Hockey League supporters tend to look past.
Seven of the Team USA players are first round NHL drafts from 2016 and 2015.
Those include Tage Thompson, the strapping 6-foot-5, 200-pound right winger from the University of Connecticut. A draft of the St. Louis Blues Thompson scored twice in the first period. Thompson has scored 12 goals in 18 games at U Conn.
Colin White, an Ottawa Senators first-round draft, and Clayton Keller, the seventh overall draft last summer by the Arizona Coyotes, are with Thompson on what figures to be the top line for coach Bob Motzko.
Team USA has a history of coming into Kingston with soon-to-be NHL stars. In 2015, it was the Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel leading the charge for Team USA. Eichel would go on to be the second player picked behind Edmoton’s Connor McDavid.
Toronto’s Auston Matthews was on the same team with Eichel.
Coach Motzko, from the St. Cloud, Minn., does like the way his team has come through the pre-tournament play with a 2-0 record after Friday’s game played before 3,500 at the Rogers K-Rock Centre.
“We think it was another good step for us moving forward,” said Motzko, adding that by putting five players back in the lineup who didn’t play in the team’s 4-3 win over Switzerland, the team’s demeanour was better right from the start.
“Penalties got us in trouble but we liked it when our game plan was in effect. Getting pucks down low, good transition game.”
The Czech Republic did push back some in the second and third periods.
Goaltender Joseph Wall, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft, made some good stops in the game’s second half.
The best was when David Kase was awarded a penalty shot at 4:23 of the third period. Woll made a poke check when Kase stickhanded in close trying for the deke.
“We thought he was a little nervous in the first but really settled down and was really strong. Very pleased with him,” Motzko said.
The Czech Republic went with their 17-year-old goaltending star Jakub Skarek who was terrific after the first period.
Team USA outshot the Czech Republic, 31-23.
Team USA will play in the same Group B pool as Team Canada. The Americans schedule is almost ideal with building games against Latvia on Boxing Day, followed by Slovakia, Russia and finally against Team Canada on New Year’s Eve.
“We think it sets up really well. Were not used to afternoon games and we have three,” Motzko said.
“Sometimes let’s just play, no messing around. Get at your game quick.”
Game notes: Czech Republic forward Filip Chlapik has 24 goals for the Charlottetown Islanders of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Kingston’s Jim Hulton is the GM-coach of the Islanders, who are fifth overall in the Quebec league with a 20-12-1 record. Chlapik has recently signed a NHL contract with the Ottawa Senators…The Czech Republic, once considered one of the top four countries at the WJC has slipped out of that status, replaced by Finland. The Czech Republic won gold back to back in 2000 and 2001 and since has only had a bronze medal in 2005…Team USA forward Jordan Greenway was close to home territory. He is from Canton in upper New York State. Canton is about an hour away from Kingston…Team USA announced Luke Kunin as the team captain. Assistants are Colin White and defenceman Charlie McAvoy…Filip Hronek, who plays in the OHL for the Saginaw Spirit, is the captain for the Czech Republic.