Auston Matthews powers Team USA to World semis
Auston Matthews just reminded everyone why he's going to be the first pick in this year's NHL draft.
The 18-year-old center scored a goal in regulation and another in the shootout to power the underdog Americans to a 2–1 win over the Czech Republic at the 2016 World Championships on Thursday.
The victory clinches a spot for Team USA in Saturday's semi-final against the winner of the cross-over quarter-final of Canada vs. Sweden.
Of course, it's not just that Matthews scored that has scouts buzzing. It's how.
Matthews took a feed from Boston prospect Frank Vatrano and powered through the Czech defense before sliding a smooth backhander through the legs of goaltender Dominik Furch to tie the game the game at one in the second period. His shootout goal was even sweeter. With the game on the line, Matthews came in slightly to the right of Furch and faked his release before sliding it through the keeper's legs for the clincher.
That's what they call “a goal scorer's goal.”
Matthews, who is expected to be the No. 1 pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs when the NHL Draft is held June 24 in Buffalo, now has five goals and eight points through eight games. By a quirk of IIHF rules, his shootout winner counts in his totals.
While he's living up to expectations, Team USA is exceeding them. The hastily build club features seven players who spent the season playing college hockey and is among the youngest ever sent to the tournament. That lack of experience showed as they struggled through the round robin, losing four their seven games and barely squeaking into the playoffs by virtue of an overtime loss to Slovakia in their finale.
They weren't expected to pose much of a challenge to a Czech team that finished atop Group A with six wins and one OT loss. But the Americans survived a lopsided first period and held on to get to the shootout where Keith Kinkaid of the New Jersey Devils stopped all three shots he faced.
Team USA wouldn't mind another crack at Canada if that's the way it plays out. The defending champs steamrolled them in the tournament opener, 5–1.