The road to a repeat has looked like an uncontested coronation to this point for the United States of America.
Team USA cruised to a 5-2 victory over Quebec on Sunday afternoon to improve to 4-0 and finish the round robin atop the Pool A standings, giving them 12 consecutive round-robin victories in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
But the defending champions aren’t about to look past their next opponent as they prepare for the medal round of the 2011 event.
“We wanted to be first overall, you hate to give anything away,” said Team USA head coach Danton Cole. “The hard part is still left.”
Team USA will face Pacific on Monday at 3 p.m., while Quebec (3-1) will meet Ontario in the late semi at 7:30 p.m. Both semis will be played at MTS Centre.
Ontario (4-0) locked up first place in its pool on Sunday night with a 4-2 victory over Pacific (3-1) at PCU Centre in Portage la Prairie.
In other action on Monday, Team West will meet Team Atlantic in the fifth-place game in Portage at 7:30 p.m., Finland will battle the Czech Republic in the seventh-place game at MTS Iceplex at 7:30 p.m., and Germany will take on Slovakia in the ninth-place game in Portage at 3 p.m.
“As coaches we try and not change too much,” said Cole, when asked about preparations for the medal round. “We know there are going to be nerves for everybody (Monday), but we’ll try to get past that, get in our comfort zone and play the way that we play. Our guys have been good about not getting too far ahead and sticking to what we do well.”
The list of what the Americans have been doing well this tournament is long.
While outscoring their opponents by a 26-6 margin, Team USA has showcased an impressive combination of size, skill and determination.
They are clearly the team to beat, but aren’t about to be overwhelmed by the weight of expectations.
“We can’t ask for anything more than (4-0),” said Team USA forward Stefan Matteau, who had a goal and two assists on Sunday. “We’ve worked well as a team for all four games and we’re happy with what we’re doing. You’re always looking to get better and we’ve been doing that.
“We have a good team and we’re pretty confident about that, but it’s all or nothing and do-or-die (now). We have an advantage because we play together all year.”
Quebec got on the board first at 6:40 of the opening period, but Ryan Hartman scored a short-handed marker 30 seconds later, sparking a stretch of five consecutive goals for Team USA.
Seth Jones, Miles Koules, Thomas Di Pauli and Matteau also scored for Team USA.
Captain Charles Simard-Hudon scored both of Quebec’s goals, delivering once during a two-man advantage in the first period and then another at 4:56 of the third that closed out the scoring.
“I like our composure,” said Cole. “It’s a pretty mature bunch. They understand the big picture.”
Atlantic 7 Germany 2
U.S. 5 Quebec 2
Ontario 4 Pacific 2
West 4 Slovakia 1
Czech Republic 4, Slovakia 1
U.S. 12, Atlantic 1
Finland 3, Germany 1
Ontario 4, West 3
U.S. vs. Pacific, 3 p.m. (MTS Centre)
Germany vs. Slovakia, 3 p.m. (Portage)
Finland vs. Czech Rep., 7:30 p.m. (Iceplex)
Atlantic vs. West, 7:30 p.m. (Portage)
Quebec vs. Ont., 7:30 p.m. (MTS Centre)
Semifinal losers, 3 p.m. (MTS Centre)
Semifinal winners, 7:30 p.m. (MTS Centre)