Short-handed goal lifts U.S. over Russia

Updated: December 26, 2004, 12:33 AM ET
Associated Press

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Dan Fritsche scored twice -- including a tiebreaking short-handed goal -- to lead the defending champion United States team to a 5-4 victory over Russia on Saturday night in the opening round of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

Fritsche's second goal, scored midway through the second period, was the winner. The Americans took leads of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 against Russia, the tournament champion in 2002 and 2003.

Robbie Schremp, Chris Bourque and Drew Stafford had the other goals for the United States, which got 30 saves from Al Montoya of Michigan -- a first-round draft pick of the New York Rangers.

Montoya made 12 saves in the third period.

"For us, it was a great start to the hockey tournament and a very exciting game to watch," U.S. coach Scott Sandelin said. "It was a good game for us because it kept us on our toes."

Fritsche snapped a 4-4 tie when he scored on a 2-on-1 break while the United States was short-handed in the second period. Kevin Porter led the rush down the left side before sliding the puck to Fritsche, who stretched out to tip it past goalie Anton Khudobin.

"I thought it might be a 9-8 game the way that first period was going," Sandelin said.

Dmitri Pestunov, Alexander Ovechkin, Sergei Shirokov and Yakov Rylov scored for Russia. Ovechkin was taken No. 1 overall in this year's NHL draft by the Washington Capitals.

The Americans will have a tough time repeating as champion because Canada has emerged as the tournament favorite.

Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby combined for seven points to help Canada beat Slovakia 7-3 in its opening game.

Canada jumped out to a 4-0 lead behind two goals each by Bergeron and Crosby -- and outshot Slovakia 36-23. The Canadiens then had to hold on to win.

"All in all it was the kind of game that was in and out for us," Canada coach Brent Sutter said. "I think you're going to have bumps in the road along the way … but in the end, it's a win."

Clarke MacArthur also scored two goals -- including one on a penalty shot -- for Canada, which has finished second in the tournament in each of the last three years.

"I thought we played a pretty solid game for the first game of the tournament," MacArthur said. "We still have some things to work on."

In other opening-round games, Petr Vrana scored three goals to lift the Czech Republic to a 7-2 victory over Belarus, and Finland got three points from Antti Nokelainen and two from Jussi Makkonen to beat Germany 4-1.

Bergeron, who played in the 2004 World Championship, scored the first goal on a breakaway at 3:55 of the first period after taking a long pass from Crosby. Canada scored three more unanswered goals, the last by Crosby at 9:52 of the second period.

Crosby will likely be the first player selected in the next NHL draft.

Peter Olvecky's goal pulled Slovakia within 5-3 early in the third period, but the team failed to capitalize on three power plays down the stretch.

Slovakia had a two-man advantage for 1:18 with less than five minutes remaining. Canada killed off both penalties and added two late goals by MacArthur, the last on a penalty shot with seven seconds remaining.

Vrana scored in a variety ways for the Czech Republic to notch the tournament's first hat trick. He had an even-strength goal in the first period, then added short-handed and power-play tallies in the third period.

Michael Frolik, Michal Kvapil, Petr Petruzalek and Rostislav Olesz added goals for the Czechs.

The United States is in a pool with Russia, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Switzerland. Canada is the other pool with Sweden, Finland, Germany and Slovakia for the tournament that runs through Jan. 4.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press