Image Taken by Andrés Mallen
JUNE 10, 2018, 6:49 P.M. (ET)
SALAMANCA, Mexico - June 10, 2018 - The U.S. Men’s National Team entered the Hockey Series Open with determination to claim nothing short of first place. Entering their final game of the tournament, they controlled their own destiny going up against No. 73 Panama at the Cancha de Hockey Siglo XXI in Salamanca, Guanajuanto, Mexico. The ensuing match saw a more settled and composed team from the day prior in a 22-0 affair, helping propel USA into first place in the tournament and a spot in the Hockey Series Finals.
With both Mexico and USA atop the tournament with three wins, one tie between each other and zero losses, both squads knew that another win each would mean first place would come down to goal differential. With USA as the first men's match of the day, they would have the disadvantage of being at the mercy of the outcome of Mexico and Puerto Rico. What they did know what needed to get done was secure a win with the biggest tally of scores as possible to put pressure on the host nation.
"We came to win a tournament and we did it," said Rutger Wiese, U.S. Men's National Team Head Coach. "It shows again that you all have to show up. Goal differential, clenching your fists until the very last minute of the tournament. We have the ambitions to get to the next level, which is what we've expressed. We need to start finding ways in which we dont get in to a situation that takes until the last second of a game we are not involved in to determine if we get into the next round."
"We had a set plan," said Tom Barratt (Greensboro, N.C.). "We knew the situation so we had to go out and score a lot to make the goal differential as big as possible."
USA wasted no time in gaining momentum and the lead in their final match of the tournament. The opening five minutes, the red, white and blue successfully converted two penalty corners, courtesy of Aki Kaeppeler (Stuttgart, Germany), and a field goal strike by Paul Singh (Ventura, Calif.) to quickly make the score 3-0. As the score grew, so did the squad’s confidence as USA continued to keep pressure on Panama’s defensive unit. Before the opening frame concluded, Singh was able to score his second field goal of the day to make the score 4-0. USA maintained pressure offensively as the second quarter got underway. Deegan Huisman (Almere, The Netherlands) made a quick challenge on net when he found himself unopposed in the circle, but goalkeeper Carlos Portugal denied him on the shot on net. Moments later, on USA’s third penalty corner, Kaeppeler stayed perfect with another timely execution in the 17th minute before adding another in similar fashion in the 18th minute, making the score 6-0. With the quarter nearly begun, USA would manage another seven scores by four different players to make it 13-0 when the horn signaled halftime.
"We were a bit more composed today compared to the other games," said Kaeppeler, after the game. "We stuck to the game plan, stuck to our positions better and passed around more. We just got into a flow early and kept the momentum going most of the game."
Singh continued the offensive frenzy for the team in the 31st minute with another field goal before Alex Grassi(Brookeville, Md.) followed up with his first of the game in the 36th minute. Kaeppeler would convert another penalty corner in the 41st minute and Tyler Sundeen (Simi Valley, Calif.) a field goal one minute later to extend the lead. Now 17-0, USA kept Panama’s offensive and clearing chances to a minimum rolling into the final quarter. Christian De Angelis(Doylestown, Pa.) would tap in a rebound that bounced right to his stick for his first goal of the game in the 48th minute. Grassi would then pick up his second goal as he knocked down the ball mid air and into the net seconds later. Barratt (Greensboro, N.C.) would get on the scoresheet in the 54th minute prior to Huisman netting a pair of goals to end the game.
The final score put USA in prime position to claim first place leading Mexico in goal differential by 21. Therefore, Mexico would need to beat USA in goal differential in addition to a win. The host nation played their final game immediately after USA. Knowing the outcome necessary, Mexico got off to a quick start against Puerto Rico, taking a commanding 8-1 lead at halftime. By the final horn, Mexico prevailed 14-1, making the goal differential short of USA.
"The shock of yesterday made it so that we needed a reaction," added Barratt. "We reacted in the right way. We needed to be positive from the get-go and I certainly think we did that."