U.S. men’s hockey team off to hottest start at worlds in 92 years

Casey DeSmith
Casey DeSmith

The U.S. men’s hockey team won its first five games in regulation at a world championship for the first time since 1931, cruising into Thursday’s quarterfinals in a tournament co-hosted by Finland and Latvia.

The Americans won in group play over Finland (4-1), Hungary (7-1), Germany (3-2), Austria (4-1) and Denmark (3-0 on Saturday).

Cutter Gauthier, a rising Boston College sophomore who was the fifth overall 2022 NHL Draft pick, Buffalo Sabres forward Alex Tuch and AHL player Rocco Grimaldi scored in the third period Saturday. Casey DeSmith, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ No. 2 goalie, got the shutout with 22 saves.

The Americans have group games left with France (Sunday) and Sweden (Tuesday, likely to decide the group winner), but already clinched one of the top four spots in its eight-team group to advance to the quarterfinals. The other group includes Canada, Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic) and Switzerland.

The U.S. most recently won its first five games at a worlds in 2018 (when it won its first six) and in 1933, but both times needed at least one overtime. The 1933 five-game run was capped by an overtime final win over Canada, the last time the U.S. won the title at a standalone worlds.

While the NHL didn’t participate in the last two Olympics, some NHL players annually play at the world championship, which takes place during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This year’s U.S. team, which includes three 2022 Olympians, has zero players with NHL All-Star experience for the first time at worlds since 2010. In most years, there have been one or two players with All-Star experience while most choose rest after a seven-month NHL campaign or are still playing in the NHL playoffs.

The U.S. head coach is San Jose Sharks head coach David Quinn, who also coached the U.S. at the 2022 Olympics (quarterfinals) and 2022 Worlds (fourth place).

Last year, the U.S. men lost a world championship semifinal for an 11th consecutive time, again missing out on a first gold or silver finish since 1950.

The U.S. has lost all 11 of its semifinals at worlds since the IIHF reinstituted a bracketed playoff round in 1992.

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