Hat trick paces U.S.A. to victory

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Oblivious to the pressure of the situation, Phil Kessel made sure the Americans kept their hopes of repeating as gold medallists alive. U.S.A. 8 SWEDEN 2

Kessel, the youngest player on the U.S. squad, had three goals and an assist to lead the United States to an 8-2 victory over Sweden last night before a relieved crowd of 8,258 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

With the win, the U.S. moves on to face Russia in a 7:38 p.m. semifinal tonight at the 2005 World Junior Hockey Championship.

"We were fired up to win this one," said Kessel, 17, who is considered one of the top prospects for the 2005 NHL entry draft if he opts in. "I'm young, so I've got a couple of years left. It's all about the team here. I feel real relaxed. I just go out there and play hockey."

Loui Eriksson opened the scoring for Sweden at 4:12 of the first period, burying his shot on a give-and-go with Johannes Salmonsson.

The U.S. squared things up late in the period after Swedish goalie David Rautio Berguv mishandled a dump-in, leaving an open net for Kevin Porter.

UND Fighting Sioux forward Drew Stafford gave the Americans their first lead at 3:08 of the second and Kessel brought fans out of their seats with a dynamite end-to-end rush that saw him pick up speed through the neutral zone, maneuver the puck through the skates of Swedish defender Johan Fransson and slide it through the legs of Rautio Berguv.

After Sweden narrowed the deficit on Eriksson's second of the game, Kessel struck again.

Kessel showed his blazing speed and soft hands by dancing around Per Savilahti-Nagander and scoring on a low shot at 4:15 of the third, then completed the hat trick at 7:21, converting a rebound after Patrick O'Sullivan's shot hit the post.

Robbie Schremp, Ryan Suter and Tim Hensick also scored for the U.S.

"Everyone came to play today," said goalie Al Montoya, who had one of his best games for the Americans with 29 saves. "We have a bunch of special players on this team."

The U.S. beat Russia 5-4 in what was one of the most entertaining round-robin games of the tournament, but the Russians have won four straight since the defeat.

Alexander Ovechkin, the first overall pick of the 2004 NHL entry draft, has led the way offensively for Russia with five goals and eight points in four games.


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