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United States Men’s Hockey: 4 Things We Learned in Quarterfinal Win Over Czech Republic

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United States Men’s Hockey: 4 Things We Learned in Quarterfinal Win Over Czech Republic
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David Backes has been a physical force for the United States hockey team.

COMMENTARY | The United States made another seemingly tough game look easy.

It beat the Czech Republic 5-2 on Wednesday, February 19, after holding at least a two-goal lead for the better part of the game.

The Czechs, who nearly squandered a 4-0 lead to Slovakia in the qualifying round, tied the game at 1-1 early in the first period and appeared to be giving the United States all it could handle. However, the United States scored four unanswered goals and cruised to a semifinal berth.

Here are four things we learned in the United States' win against the Czech Republic:

USA physical with Czech's skill players

The Czech Republic doesn't have the star power that Canada has, but it still has names like Jaromir Jagr, Patrick Elias, Martin Hanzal, Ales Hemsky, Tomas Plekanec and David Krejci to name a few.

The United States didn't allow these skill players to get any time or space. They were physical with them the entire game. David Backes, Brooks Orpik and the rest of the Americans threw their bodies around like there was no tomorrow.

It disrupted the Czech's flow and prevented them from getting any momentum or entering the offensive zone with possession.

United States scoring close to net

While the United States have some big names on its roster, it certainly doesn't compare to the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. However, the Americans are scoring the gritty, garbage goals that are needed when your team lacks top-end skill.

Three of the Americans' first four goals against the Czechs were scored down low near the net. James van Riemsdyk tucked a puck past Ondrej Pavelec on the short side after coming from behind the net, Backes picked up a shot off the bouncy boards and shot it past Pavelec and Zach Parise scored his first goal of the tournament as he out-muscled Marek Zidlicky for a rebound in the slot.

They aren't the prettiest goals, but for a team like the United States that isn't the most skilled team in the tournament, these are the kinds of goals you need to score against less physical teams like the Czechs.

Young defense stepping up

One of the concerns for the United States was how the defense was going to fare. Kevin Shattenkirk, Cam Fowler, John Carlson and Ryan McDonagh are between the ages of 22-25. The fear was their lack of NHL experience wasn't going to translate well to the international game.

The fear has all but been erased as these young guys -- along with Orpik, Ryan Suter and Paul Martin -- have given the United States a formidable blue line.

The Americans have allowed just 95 shots in four games good for an average of 23.75 shots per game.

The defenseman are doing a good job of keeping shots to the outside to allow Jonathan Quick or Ryan Miller to see them, getting sticks in the passing lanes and clearing out the front of the net.

They also are physical in the corners and making opposing forwards work for every inch of space.

United States, Canada game will be close

The United States faces Canada in the semifinals as the Canadians survived a 2-1 scare from Latvia in their quarterfinal. Based on the way the two teams have played thus far in the tournament, it might be easy to think the United States is going to run away with this one.

The Americans are averaging 4.75 goals per game, whereas Canada has had trouble scoring, averaging just 3.25 goals per game. That 3.25 goals per game mark is against lower-end teams like Latvia and Norway.

However, I think this game is going to be a one-goal game. The United States and Canada always play each other tight, and each side wants to be the one to knock the other out of the tournament. The rest of the games are thrown out the window. This is a rivalry game, and both teams are going to bring it.

For the United States, a win would be the perfect revenge for the gold-medal game in Vancouver four years ago and, for Canada, a win would show Canadians still dominate hockey in North America.

Tom Mitsos is a Michigan native who writes about the Detroit Red Wings for the Yahoo Contributor Network. He also co-hosts a Red Wings Podcast called The Octopod, and is a high school sports reporter at MLive Media Group. You can follow Tom on Twitter.

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