Grimaldi, Gibson Lead USA to WJC Gold
13 NCAA Players Pick Up Gold Medals in Ufa
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
In 2011, Rocco Grimaldi was one of the final cuts from the United States world junior team. In 2012, he missed the tournament while recovering from knee surgery. In the final game of group play this year, Grimaldi was benched after struggling in the tournament's first three games.
But the North Dakota redshirt freshman worked his way back into the lineup, and on Saturday, he played the role of hero in the biggest game of his life. Grimaldi scored twice to help lead Team USA to a 3-1 win over Sweden in the World Junior Championship gold medal game. The gold is the Americans' second in four years and third overall.
"He was benched, and you know what, he played unbelievably these last three games," U.S. coach Phil Housley told NHL Network. "My hat goes off to him because he took it the right way, and he proved how good a player he was."
The Americans fell behind, 1-0, early in the second when Filip Sandberg collected a loose puck in the slot and wristed a shot into the top corner. Grimaldi tied the game six minutes later when he outworked Alexander Wennberg behind the Swedish net and slipped a shot past Niklas Lundstrom (31 saves) from a tough angle. The 5-foot-6 Grimaldi struck again three minutes later when he redirected a point shot by Michigan freshman Jacob Trouba, who was named the tournament's top defenseman.
That was all the support John Gibson would need. The Pittsburgh native stopped 26 of 27 shots and finished the tournament with an incredible .955 save percentage — the best in the tournament and the best ever by an American goalie. He was named the tournament MVP.
Gibson's biggest save on Saturday came five minutes into the third period, when he made an outstanding split save to rob Viktor Arvidsson on a wraparound attempt and preserve the 2-1 lead. Later in the period, he made a big pad save on a Sandberg backhander from in close. Fellow Pittsburgh native Vince Trocheck sealed the win with an empty-net goal with 16 seconds left in the game.
"Gibby did one heck of a job back there," Wisconsin sophomore and team captain Jake McCabe told NHL Network. "He was the goaltender of the tournament, and he's one special guy. We're lucky enough to have him on our team."
Seth Jones, projected to be a top pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, said before the tournament that the U.S. was the best team there. It didn't look that way through the first three games, though. After pounding a bad Germany team, the Americans dropped back-to-back 2-1 decisions against Russia and Canada as the offense struggled to finish its chances.
But then Housley moved Harvard freshman Jimmy Vesey up to the top line with J.T. Miller and Boston College sophomore Johnny Gaudreau, and the trio clicked immediately. They combined for nine goals and 12 assists over the next three games, as they helped the U.S. cruise to a 9-3 win over Slovakia in the final group stage game, a 7-0 win over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, and a 5-1 win over Canada in the semifinals. Gaudreau scored seven goals in those three games and finished as the tournament's leading goal-scorer.
"We really came together, especially at the end of the tournament," McCabe told NHL Network. "I've been saying all along that we have to improve all tournament, and we really did. It shows with these gold medals. It's a fantastic feeling, and it couldn't have been done with a better group of guys."
After a disappointing seventh-place finish last year, winning a second gold in four years has silenced all of the criticism and firmly established the U.S. as an elite hockey power. Add in four straight World Under-18 Championships and the constant growth of youth hockey in non-traditional hockey markets, and the sky really is the limit for USA Hockey moving forward.
This gold medal enters the pantheon of American hockey accomplishments, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that the future will only keep getting brighter.