Americans edge Slovaks
by Chris JUREWICZ|27 JAN 2024
Zane Torre USA and Timur Trebula SVK compete for the puck in the Ice Hockey Men’s 6-on-6 Tournament Preliminary Round match between United States of America and Slovakia at the Gangneung Hockey Centre. The Winter Youth Olympic Games, Gangwon, South Korea, Saturday 27 January 2024.
photo: © OIS (Olympic Information Service) / Chloe Knott
Under-16 men’s and women’s ice hockey tournaments open at Youth Olympic Games, with Team USA earning its first win in a shootout over Slovakia

Gangneung Hockey Centre, GANGWON, South Korea – Mikey Berchild and AJ Francisco scored in the shootout to give the United States a 5-4 win over Slovakia in a barn burner of a game to kick of the men’s six-team ice hockey tournament at the Youth Olympic Games.

The Americans got off to a quick start, when Zane Torre’s one-timer off a pass from Luke Schairer shot beat Slovakian goalie Samuel Hrenak at the 1:37 mark of the opening period. That was Torre’s first of two goals on the night.

“We were extremely pleased with the start of the game," said USA head coach Joe Bonnett. “The team showed a lot of resolve fighting until the end. It was an exciting comeback and a great way to start the tournament.”

Slovakia, playing in its first Youth Olympic Games hockey tournament, tied it 1-1 on a hard shot from Jakub Syrny that beat USA goaltender Xavier Wendt, a score that would into the second period. The teams traded powerplay goals early in the second and then Slovakia took over the game, with Kristian Reznicak scoring back-to-back goals to give the Slovaks a 4-2 lead.

In the third, the Americans showed resilience, first on a goal by Cole Bumgarner. Then, in the final minute, USA tied the game on a powerplay when Torre got his second of the game, setting the stage for the shootout and the heroics of Berchild and Francisco. Slovakia’s Hrenak was one of the stars of the game, stopping 34 of 38 American shots as he did his best to keep the Slovaks in it.

The Slovaks won’t have much time to think about the loss as it takes on archrival Czechia in Day 2 action of the ice hockey tournament. The Americans have a day off and then return to action on Day 3, when they’ll face Czechia.

The six-team tournament sees the three teams in Group A (Canada, Finland, Korea) and B (Czechia, Slovakia, United States) each play two preliminary-round games, with the top two teams in each group moving on to the semifinals.

Canada 8, Korea 0

Liam Ruck had a hat trick, while his twin brother Markus had three assists, as Canada started and finished strong in an 8-0 win over host Korea.

Mathis Preston got the ball rolling for Canada under two minutes in, when he took a hard snap shot from the top of the circle on a powerplay and headed to the net to collect his rebound and put it past Korean goaltender Jaehun Lim.

Preston had a whale of a game, as he followed his own goal with a beautiful rush through three Korean players, before making a perfect pass to Liam Ruck to score his first of the game, which made it 2-0.

Liam’s best goal of the game came with Canada shorthanded, when he took a feed from brother Markus and went in alone on Lim, finishing with a between-the-legs shot that made it 5-0. Ruck scored three different ways, with goals coming via the powerplay, while shorthanded and at even strength.

“This is unbelievable. To be (in Korea) wearing the Canadian jersey is an amazing experience,” says Liam Ruck, who plays with his brother Markus on the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League in Canada. “Our team has a lot of skill offensively and I think we played well as a team and managed to come out with a lot of goals. We need to keep good habits, stick to our game and I think we will be OK moving forward.”

Lim stopped 45 of 53 Canadian shots, while Canada’s goaltender Carter Esler wasn’t busy in this one, facing just three shots.

Canada is looking to improve on the bronze-medal win it earned at the 2020 Youth Olympic Games.

Sweden, Switzerland open women’s tournament with wins

Ebba Westerlind had a goal and two assists to pace Sweden to a 5-1 win over Norway to open the women’s six-team tournament.

Sweden led 1-0 after one, 2-0 after two and then iced the game with three goals in the third.

Tilde Grillfors had a goal and an assist for Sweden, who also got goals from Nova Svanefjord, Tillie Ytfeldt, and Matilda Osterman, who scored the nicest goal of the game on a solo effort in which she turned a Norwegian defender inside out with a great deke before stuffing the puck past goaltender Tuva Are-Ekstrom. Ytfeldt and Osterman also added assists in the balanced Sweden attack.

Cornelia Bax-Kristiansen replied with Norway’s lone goal.

Sweden is part of Group A with Japan and Norway, while Group B comprises France, Germany and Switzerland. The Swedes are trying to keep up an impressive run of medals at the Youth Olympic Games, having won gold at the 2012 and 2016 Youth Games, and taking silver in 2020.

In the other women’s game on Day 1, Valentina Camenzind wasn’t overly busy but stopped all 13 shots she faced to earn a shutout in Switzerland’s 2-0 win over France.

Livia Tschannen scored unassisted with her team shorthanded for the only goal of the first period. The score remained 1-0 until the third period, when Swiss captain Norina Miller scored the insurance goal.

Day 2 of this tournament sees Japan take on Norway and Germany face France.