Time for Montoya to step up

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 2:22 PM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Al Montoya is running out of time to make a difference. Montoya, who led Team USA to its first World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal last year in Finland, is having an up-and-down tournament as the Americans attempt to defend the title on their home soil.

At times, the first round pick of the New York Rangers has been tremendous but there have been others when Montoya has been shaky, giving up soft goals from which the Americans have been unable to bounce back.

The good news for Montoya and his teammates is that with a couple of wins in the medal round, all will be forgotten.

U.S. head coach Scott Sandelin said after Thursday's game he still had plenty of confidence in Montoya, who is playing his junior season at the University of Michigan this year.

As the quarter-finals get underway today, the United States -- which finished third in Pool A after a 2-2 round robin that included a shocking loss to Belarus -- will meet Sweden at 7:38 p.m. The Czech Republic faces Finland in the early quarter-final at 3:38 p.m.

Canada will play the winner of Finland-Czech Republic, while Russia plays either Sweden or the U.S.

ROUGH START

Montoya had a rough start to the tournament, allowing three goals on four shots before regrouping to finish with 30 saves in a 5-4 win over Russia.

Montoya, a tournament all-star and top goalie in the 2003 WJC, finished the round robin with a 3.39 goals against average and .900 save percentage.

When the tournament began, several U.S. players scoffed at The Hockey News prediction that had them finishing sixth. With a loss tonight and another Monday, the prediction would turn out to be true.

Although goaltending has been an issue at times, putting the puck in the net has also been a problem. In four games, the U.S. gave up 16 goals and scored 15.

Only UND Fighting Sioux forward Drew Stafford (13th with three goals and five points) and Dan Fritsche (21st with three goals and four points) are among the Top-30 point getters in the tournament after round robin play.

"We have to go back to work, that's basically all it is," said Stafford. "We have to put it behind us."

Sweden has been led by forward Johannes Salmonsson, who has five goals in four games, and Robert Nilsson, who has four points in four games.

In the relegation round, Slovakia takes on Belarus and Switzerland meets Germany.


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