The line of Dylan Larkin between Sonny Milano and Hudson Fasching has been a major cog in the success of Team USA at the World Junior Championship and it will have to be at its best once again when the Americans take on Canada in a pivotal game Wednesday night.
MONTREAL – The New Year’s Eve game between Canada and USA has been billed as the Connor McDavid–Jack Eichel showdown, but a couple of other Americans who have already been drafted have served notice that this World Junior Championship might just belong to them.
While Eichel has been good at times in this tournament, one of those times was not Monday’s 3-0 victory over Slovakia, when the American jewel of the 2015 draft took two penalties and failed to hit the scoresheet. Instead, USA was carried to victory on the shoulders of the line of Dylan Larkin between Sonny Milano and Hudson Fasching, which was creative as it was dominant.
It should come as no surprise that one of the members of the line is a Detroit Red Wings prospect. Larkin was taken by the Wings 15th overall last spring, one pick before Milano was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Fasching, meanwhile, was taken 118th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2013, but has since had his rights traded to the Buffalo Sabres.
With a goal and an assist against the Slovaks, Larkin leads the Americans in scoring with three goals and five points in three games. He and Fasching have developed very good chemistry since the summer when they were put together for Team USA’s development camp and Milano has added an element of skill to the line that complements Fasching’s physical, cycling style and Larkin’s ability to make plays and get the puck to his linemates.
“Larkin and Fasching were together in Lake Placid and had good chemistry and we’ve tinkered with different guys on the left side,” said American coach Mark Osiecki. “Larkin and Fasching are very consistent players and having another player jump (Milano) jump in with that kind of skill, it’s nice to have that balance.”
The play of that line also serves as a reminder that even though players such as Eichel can excel in this tournament as 17-year-olds, it is an event that lends itself more to players of more experience. The Americans have four draft-eligible players for 2015 – Eichel, along with defensemen Noah Hanifin, Zach Werenski and Brandon Carlo and right winger Auston Matthews in 2015 – it’s clear that this team is only going to have success if its older players lead the way. Fasching is a good example of that. He had a breakthrough tournament in 2014 in Sweden and that has given him more confidence that he can play with players at this level.
“I think it really helped me with handling the pressure that comes with this tournament,” Fasching said. “Learning a lot from my linemates Stefan Matteau and Andy Copp last year was huge for me. It gave me a real understanding of what the tournament is all about and everything that comes with it.”
It also helps that Larkin and Milano played together for two years on the U.S. National Development Program’s under-17 and under-18 teams, with Fasching playing a year ahead of them in the program in Ann Arbor Michigan. It creates a sense of comraderie that is difficult for any other country to replicate.
“We work together because we all want to work so hard and work for each other,” Fasching said, “and that really helps.”
It should come as a surprise to nobody that, with their business taken care of, the Americans are now looking towards Wednesday night’s showdown against Canada. In fact, after their win against Slovakia, the Americans made no secret of their desire to see the game against the Canadians be the one for top spot in Group A. And that was clinched with the American win, regardless of how the Canadians do against the Finns in the late game.
“We just want to come together and get rid of the distractions and all the noise that’s going to be around that game,” Fasching said. “We want the challenge. We’re a team that wants to be tested right now. We’re really excited for it. The big games are the ones the guys on this team look forward to playing. Big players show up for big games.”
Which means the line of Larkin between Milano and Fasching should be front and center once again when Canada and USA renew hostilities Wednesday night.