Two goals by Vinni Lettieri and Tyler Motte 38 seconds apart in the first period and 29 saves by Thatcher Demko were enough for the US National Under-18 Team to tie Minnesota 2-2. Tom Serratore and Nick Bjugstad scored for the Gophers.
Friday's game didn't count in the standings but there was still plenty of pride on the line. And some lost.
Gopher recruit Vinni Lettieri and Michigan recruit Tyler Motte scored 38 seconds apart in the first period for the US National Under-18 Team and it ended up being enough of a cushion for a 2-2 tie against the second-ranked team in college hockey. Tom Serratore and Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) scored for Minnesota while US Under-18 goalie Thatcher Demko made 39 saves.
"Very determined effort ," said US Under-18 head coach Don Granato. "It is incredible to see these kids evolve every day. We've grown a lot over the last month."
The Gophers got off to a good start and dominated the first ten minutes of the game; testing Demko, who has yet to choose a college. He was up to the challenge and kept the US Under-18 team in the game before their offense could kick into second gear.
That happened during the second ten minutes of the period beginning when 5'6" Anthony Louis (a Miami University commit) hit the post . With 3:13 left in the first as Lettieri took a pass from fellow Minnesotan Connor Hurley and one-timed it past Gopher goalie Michael Shibrowski, who made 27 saves.
Following Lettieri's goal, the puck hit a referee and came straight to Mottie for the 2-0 lead before things could settle down.
Minnesota got on the board midway through the second during a five minute major when US Under-18 forward Mike McCarrron (Cornell University recruit) was sent off for checking Zach Budish (Nashville Predators). After a wasted 1:23 two-man advantage, Tom Serratore scored on a slap shot from the blue line with just under a minute left in the major. The goal rejuvenated the Gophers, who out-shot the US Under-18 team 20-5 in the second period, and it was just a matter of time before Bjugstad tied the game at 2 (with coincidentally 2:22 left in the second).
However, that was the extent of the scoring despite chances by both teams in the third period and overtime. Instead there were a pair of injuries. Minnesota recruit Hudson Fasching did not return to the game due to what Granato referred to as a precaution after being checked by Serratore near the end of the second period and getting his bell rung. It was the opposite experience fellow recruit Lettieri, who normally plays for the Lincoln Stars in the USHL, had against his future team.
"I just kept thinking about playing for the Gophers during the game. It was an experience I'll never forget," he said.
Minnesota defenseman Jake Parenteau, meanwhile, had to be helped off the ice in the third period from a puck to the knee. Gopher head coach Don Lucia stated after the game that Parenteau's status for Sunday is yet to be determined but the team finished the game with 5 healthy defensemen.
In the end, the differences between Lettieri and Fasching's night summed up the game well. There was some good, some bad, some physical play and missed chances. Minnesota can take away a few things from Friday's game but even with a tie that doesn't count, the US Under-18 team took some of their pride.
-Suspended Wisconsin freshman forward Nic Kerdiles (Anaheim Ducks) suited up for the US Under-18 team Friday in order to get ice time and stay in shape for a chance to play with Team USA in the upcoming World Juniors.
The arrangement came together quickly following Monday's press conference where he announced his intentions to remain with the Badgers. By Tuesday, he had gotten in contact with Jim Johannson of USA Hockey and was able to clear with Wisconsin and the Big Ten. He was heavily leaned upon in the third period but ultimately was held pointless.
-Two Minnesota players held out for precautionary reasons, Mark Alt (Carolina Hurricanes) and Kyle Rau (Panthers), will return Sunday according to Lucia. However, Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) will be held out.
-Adam Wilcox will get the nod against Canisius
-Three Stars of the Game:
1) Tom Serratore
2) Nick Bjugstad
3) Thatcher Demko
Minnesota next plays Canisius Sunday at 1 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports North.
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