After finishing in second place during preliminary Group B play, the United States is through to the quarterfinals of the 2019 World Juniors where they will face the Czech Republic on Wednesday night.
Following two straight wins to start the tournament, an overtime loss to Sweden — the team that knocked them out of the semifinals last year — relegated the Americans to the second spot, though they finished the group stage strong with a 4-1 victory over fellow quarterfinalists Finland on New Year’s Eve.
The US was able to do this despite missing star center Jack Hughes, a top-tier 17-year-old that is expected to go No. 1 in the 2019 NHL Draft later this year, after he missed three group games with an undisclosed injury.
During his absence, Ryan Poehling stepped up in a huge way and has become the star of the World Juniors, tallying five goals and three assists for eight points. Shifting from winger to center to fill in for Hughes, the Montreal Canadiens prospect recorded a hat-trick in the final 10 minutes of the third period of a furious comeback against the Swedes.
He’s helped pace an offense that is one of the most dangerous at the World Juniors as the Americans have scored 18 goals in just four games.
The unit is going to get an even larger boost as Hughes is expected to play on Wednesday against the Czech Republic, restoring the team to full strength as they try to make the gold medal game for the second time in three years.
The Czechs, though, will counter with one of the best goalies at the tournament in Anaheim Ducks prospect Lukas Dostal. The 18-year-old has the highest save percentage (.957) among any goalie at the World Juniors who have faced 60 or more shots.
He is the main reason why the Czech’s defense has allowed just eight goals all tournament, good for the fourth-best blue line this year.
While the Americans have scored 18 goals, the Czech Republic has scored just eight in four games. Only tournament minnows Denmark (0) and Kazakhstan (5) scored fewer goals at the 2019 World Juniors.
Here is how you can catch all the action:
USA vs. Czech Republic viewing information: 2019 World Juniors
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 3
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: NHL Network (USA), TSN 2 (Canada)
Free live stream: Reddit