Watson leads USA over Latvia

Latvia defenceman  Kriss Lipsbergs collides with USA forward Emerson Etem during their World Junior...

Latvia defenceman Kriss Lipsbergs collides with USA forward Emerson Etem during their World Junior Hockey Championship match in Calgary, Alta., Jan. 3, 2012. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:02 PM ET

CALGARY - For the Americans, it's been a tournament to forget.

At least forward Austin Watson had a game to remember.

Watson had a natural hat-trick in the opening period and had collected seven points at the second intermission of Tuesday's 12-2 relegation-round rout of Latvia at the Saddledome, even prompting chatter among his teammates about Watson matching -- or bettering -- Peter Forsberg's single-game scoring record at the world junior hockey championship.

"We know that one of the Russians players almost tied Forsberg's record, so we tried to get him that 10 points," said Watson's linemate Nick Bjugstad, who had a hat-trick and five points of his own. "We kind of died down offensively in the third period, but it was fun to see him play that well."

During the preliminary round, Russian captain Yevgeni Kuznetsov racked up nine points in a 14-0 throttling of Latvia, falling just one point shy of Forsberg's tournament record of 10 points in a single outing.

Watson had a shot at history, too, but he was blanked in the third period of Wednesday's game.

Instead, he settles for a share of the U.S. world juniors record, set by teammates Ted Drury and Doug Weight during a 19-1 shellacking of Norway in 1991.

Watson seemed to ease off in the third period, but the Nashville Predators prospect insisted he wasn't showing compassion for the Latvians.

"I think, in the third period, once it's talked about, you start trying a little bit too hard maybe," Watson said. "But that's a great record. To even have seven points in a hockey game is unbelievable."

Amazingly enough, 9,146 fans showed up at the Dome for an essentially meaningless game.

Credit the U.S. for showing up, too.

Bill Arnold, Adam Clendening, Austin Czarnik, J.T. Miller, Kyle Rau and Jason Zucker also scored for the Americans, while Zemgus Girgensons and Teodors Blugers provided the offence for Latvia.

"The biggest thing that we wanted to prove is that we don't believe we should be here in the relegation round. We believe that we're a good hockey team worthy of being in the medal round," Watson said. "I think every time you step on the ice, especially playing for your country, you have to take pride in that and just take pride in being your best personally. I think we were able to do that."

The U.S. will face Switzerland in Wednesday's matinee, with the winner finishing in seventh spot. The loser of a morning game between Denmark and Latvia -- both shooting for their first wins of the week -- will be demoted to the Division 1 Tournament for 2013.

The Americans aren't the first medal contender to have a sub-par showing at the world juniors.

In 1998, Team Canada had to explain an embarrassing eighth-place finish in Helsinki, Finland.

Shooting for a sixth straight gold medal with a roster that included eventual NHL stars Vincent Lecavalier, Roberto Luongo and Alex Tanguay, the Canadians won only three times in seven tries, capped by a 6-3 loss to Kazakhstan in their last game.

For the Americans, a loss to Latvia -- or even a nailbiter -- wasn't going to be good enough.

"If we would've won 3-1 or 4-1, that would've been different," said Miller, one of three Team USA players eligible to return for next year's world juniors tournament. "But we scored 12 goals, almost in two periods. I think everybody should realize we deserve to be (in the medal round)."

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson


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