HALIFAX – On a United States team full of youth, its youngest player led the team to victory Friday night.
Chicago Blackhawks 19-year-old sniper Patrick Kane had a goal and two assists as the U.S. blanked Latvia 4-0 in Day 1 action at the IIHF World World Hockey Championship. “Is that what I had? Three points,” Kane said of his world championship debut. “The power play was cooking tonight. We scored four goals. It was good to get that going. It’s just nice to start off with a win, especially against a team that we probably should beat.”
Sporting its throw-back jerseys from their famous 1960 Olympic gold medal win, the Americans’ youthful roster, which has just three skaters over 25, and an average age of 24.6, brought down a spirited Latvian team with only one player currently in the NHL.
Kane, who doesn’t turn 20 until November, led the offensive charge. The leading candidate for the National Hockey League’s rookie of the year award assisted on a first period marker by Dustin Brown seven minutes into the first, before scoring on a nice individual effort midway through the second.
On Kane’s goal, he took the puck near Latvia’s blueline, skated in and fired a snap-shot top corner on goaltender Edgars Masalskis.
Kane also fired a shot that resulted in Brown’s goal 7:21 into the first. His shot was stopped, but Brown, a forward with the Los Angeles Kings, put in the rebound near the Latvian crease.
Kane’s third point came seven minutes into the third. He skated into the slot and found Zach Parise at the side of goal. The New Jersey Devils sniper took two whacks before scoring.
“He’s an unbelievably skilled hockey player,” American goaltender Tim Thomas said of Kane, who had 72 points this season for Chicago. “He has a heck of future in front of him.”
So it would seem, does most of the U.S. team, which is using this tournament as a litmus test to see what might lie ahead at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
“We have a lot of young legs, and have no excuses to be tired and lose energy,” said Kane. “I think it’s good for us (to be this young), especially with the way the NHL is right now. There are so many good young players, and we have a lot.”
Patrick O’Sullivan of the Kings rounded out the scoring for the Americans. New Jersey Devils blueliner Paul Martin chipped in with three assists.
Thomas, of the Boston Bruins, delivered a solid performance in net, stopping 24 shots. Latvia had several good opportunities to score, but Thomas came up with some highlight-reel stops to keep them off the scoresheet. His best came late in the third, when after stopping the first shot, he spun around backwards, and with the side of his arm, kept the rebound attempt out.
Also spectacular, and much more important, was his stop early in the second, when he slid across with his glove to deny Latvia’s Mikelis Redlish from point-blank range. The save kept the score 1-0.
“Now I know what Dominik Hasek feels like,” said Thomas, the team’s oldest player at 34. “You don’t see a lot of shots, but sometimes, they’re really important.”
Latvia, cheered on by about 1,000 lively fans from its home country, played hard, and made the U.S. work for what it got. Masalskis was the team’s best player as he finished with 45 saves.
One of those stops came on a penalty shot to American forward Lee Stempniak three minutes after Kane’s goal. Stempniak, of the St. Louis Blues, couldn’t beat Masalskis, who closed his pads to stop a shot five-hole.
The Americans will have Saturday off, before returning to action Sunday against Slovenia, which lost 5-1 to host Canada earlier on Friday. Latvia plays Canada on Sunday in the other Group B preliminary contest.
Patrick O’Sullivan rounded out the scoring for the Americans, who scored all of their goals with the man-advantage. New Jersey Devils blueliner Paul Martin added three assists.
Boston Bruins netminder Tim Thomas delivered a solid performance, stopping 24 shots. Latvia had several good opportunities to score, but Thomas came up with a number of highlight-reel stops. His best came late in the third, when after stopping the first Latvian shot, he spun around backwards, and with the paddle of his stick kept the rebound attempt out.
American forward Lee Stempniak was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway shortly after Kane’s goal in the second. Stempniak couldn’t beat Masalskis, who closed his pads to stop a shot five-hole. Masalskis was Latvia’s best player, finishing with 45 saves.
The Americans have Saturday off before returning to action Sunday night against Slovenia, which lost 5-1 to Canada earlier Friday.