Czarnik, Saad Lead Charge As Americans Tune Up For World Juniors

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Czarnik, Saad lead charge as Americans tune up for World Juniors

Going into Wednesday night’s exhibition contest, Austin Czarnik knew making an impression on his head coach was important. It turns out the American forward’s three-point night against the Swiss in world junior hockey pre-tournament action caught more than his coach’s eye.

"He played a good game," U.S. head coach Dean Blais said of Czarnik after his squad dumped the Swiss 7-3 at Edgeworth Centre in Camrose.

"He was in the power-play and killed penalties and had a lot of energy. He’s being drug tested right now, so obviously they thought he played well too."

The sometimes arduous process of a urine test kept Czarnik from meeting with the media, but his coach had plenty to say about the 19-year-old who wasn’t invited to the team’s summer camp in Lake Placid.

"Just his speed and his intensity, he’s a kid that wants to win," Blais said. "He’s quick and he’s good on the bench and in the locker-room. He’s a hockey player. He knows how to make plays and he competes hard."

Czarnik helped set the tone in the win, cashing in on a Swiss giveaway and scoring on a backhanded deke just 23 seconds into play. He assisted on the goal that put the U.S. up 4-1: a pretty tic-tac-toe setup that resulted in forward Emerson Etem’s tally. Most important, Czarnik got Blais’ eyes on him just before the American coaches make their final decisions on who will make up their 22-man roster. Their team will be officially announced on Thursday morning.

Beyond the points, Czarnik poured every bit of his five-foot-eight, 152-pound frame into Wednesday’s game. He made a key block on a Swiss shot from the point in the first period that kept the momentum on the Americans’ side.

"It’s something we talked about," Blais said. "We just worked on it a tad in practice (on Wednesday morning). On game day, you don’t do a whole lot, but it’s something we didn’t do very well against Russia.

"They scored two goals because we didn’t go down and block shots and that can’t happen. It’s going to be more and more a factor in every game. If you don’t block shots, it’s going to end up in the back of your net a lot."

Brandon Saad, a 19-year-old winger whose spot is more certain on the team, led the highly offensive game with a pair of goals and three assists. He said he was happy to see Czarnik make his mark in the game as well.

"I thought he played really well," Saad offered. "He’s a gritty player for his size, too. I like him a lot and hopefully they do too. We’ll find out tomorrow how the team looks."

John Gibson backstopped the Americans with a quiet 17-save night. Bill Arnold, Charlie Coyle and T.J. Tynan all tallied for the U.S., who rebounded from a 6-3 loss to Russia in Red Deer on Tuesday night.

The Swiss were led in their exhibition debut by 17-year-old forward Christoph Bertschy’s two goals. Calgary Flames prospect Sven Baertschi rounded out Switzerland’s scoring on a breakaway, with netminder Lukas Meili making 28 saves.

"We have a lot of guys that aren’t used to playing on American ice rinks," Swiss head coach Manuele Celio said. "It was too bad that the first goal happened (23) seconds in. It was a gift to them, they don’t need gifts, they’re skilled enough."

The Americans will face Slovakia, on Friday in Three Hills at 7 p.m.

Switzerland will start Tim Wolf in net on Thursday against Canada.

Finns take care of Slovakians

Calgary / It’s been a while since Finland has made waves at the world junior hockey level.

With their performance on Wednesday at the WinSport Ice Complex, the Finns are serving notice they won’t be easy prey for anyone this time around.

The young Finns displayed superior skating and puck handling as they controlled Slovakia 3-0 in a dress rehearsal for the world juniors in front of a sparse crowd at the Canada Olympic Park venue.

This was the final pre-tournament game for Finland, as they open up the event on Boxing Day with a toughie against Canada.

Chris O’Leary

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