Kid clutch

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:27 PM ET

Hockey fans might want to remember the name Phil Kessel. And if the 17-year-old American is able to dazzle as much as he did last night, that won't be a problem.

Kessel scored a hat trick, including a couple of highlight-reel goals, to propel the U.S. to an 8-2 victory against Sweden in a quarter-final at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. The U.S. will meet Russia in a semi-final tonight.

Kessel was born Oct. 2, 1987, making him eligible for the 2006 NHL entry draft. Had he been born on or prior to Sept. 15, he would have been eligible this year, also known as Sidney Crosby's year.

"I guess this was the night," Kessel said. "I had no expectations (when the U.S. opened camp). Wherever they fit me in (was fine). I'm young and I have a couple of more years left, and I just want to do anything to help the team out.

"But (Crosby) is the best '87 player there is."

Maple Leafs scout Craig Button pegged Kessel, who is high school and probably will go the NCAA route, as a top-three pick in 2006.

"What's really interesting is he went right after all those big Swedish defencemen one-on-one," Button said. "He really attacked them. He is hungry to score."

Kessel, a six-foot, 185-pound forward, brought the crowd of 8,258 out of its seats on his first goal, when he went end-to-end before beating goalie David Rautio between the legs.

"Kessel is sick, he is such a good player," teammate and London Knights forward Rob Schremp said. "The game needs more guys who can dangle like him. To watch him go through a team like that, we were laughing on the bench because there was nothing else you could do."

The U.S. has been inconsistent in this tournament, beating Russia on the opening day but also suffering a loss to lowly Belarus. At times the defending gold-medal champs have succumbed to disorganized pond hockey but are confident going into their match against Alexander Ovechkin and the Russians.

"They have a really good transition game and Ovechkin and (Evgeni)Malkin like to run the puck and we have to put the body on guys like them," Schremp said. "They don't intimidate us at all."

terry.koshan@tor.sunpub.com


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