”We´re working our butts off,” says tournament scoring leader Nick Schmaltz before final

10.08.2013 | Derek OBrien

In their quest to win their second gold medal the 22-year history of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, Team USA has relied heavily on the offence of Nick Schmaltz of the USHL´s Green Bay Gamblers. With 6 points in 3 games, he helped his team finish first in the Piestany Group, and then came up big again in the team´s semifinal win over the Czech Republic in Breclav.

In Friday´s semifinal, the US team got off to a slow start and fell behind the eight-ball after a power-play goal four minutes in. The Czechs were feeding off the loud home crowd and the Americans were back on their heels.

"There was tons of noise out there," said Schmaltz, who would help turn the game around with 2 points and be named his team´s player of the game. "Obviously the Czech Republic has the home crowd. There was lots of noise, so it was awesome, great atmosphere, but sometimes it was really loud and tough to hear."

Schmaltz knew he was the go-to guy to get his team on the board, and a minute later he intercepted a pass in the Czech zone and fed a pass to defenceman Nick Wolff, whose one-timer missed the far post. Although they failed to connect, Schmaltz made a habit in the game of causing turnovers, and it eventually paid off. He scored two goals in the game, both time giving his team the lead. With 1:50 left in the first period, his goal at the tail end of a power play made it 2-1. Then just past the game´s midpoint, pressure from his line caused a Czech clearing attempt to find its way onto his stick, and he made it 3-2.

Schmaltz himself dismissed he was doing anything special, though.

"Pucks were bouncing out there, it´s so warm out there that it affects the quality of the ice, but both teams play on the same ice and there were a lot of turnovers both ways."

Loose pucks seemed to end up on Schmaltz´s stick more than anyone else´s, however. With his team up 4-3 in the third period, he forced another turnover and got a partial breakaway, only to be denied by Vitek Vanecek in the Czech goal. Nonetheless, his team held on to win 5-3 and advance to the final.

With 2 goals Friday, Schmaltz now has 5 goals and 3 assists in four games, which puts him atop tournament scoring. Schmaltz wasn´t so interested in speaking about that, though. He was more focussed on the next task at hand for his team. And what about that Canadian team?

"Obviously, they´re a great team. We´re just going to have to play our game and hopefully we come out with a win."

Winning won´t be easy, though. Canada has won this tournament the last five years, while the Americans won it for the one-and-only time back in 2003. Typically, the USA is stronger at the IIHF U18 World Championship in April, where they send their National Development team and had a four-year gold medal streak snapped this year at the hands of Canada. Now, this team of US Selects has a chance to return the favour.

What does it mean for Schmaltz and his teammates to go where so few US teams have gone before?

"It´s obviously an honour. We´re working our butts off. I know there´s only been one gold medal team from the US in the last 21 years, so we´re going to try to be the second."

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