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Team USA Wins in OT To Reach Men’s Hockey Final

Ruffin scores game-winner

LAKE PLACID, NY – A minute or so before noon Saturday, Jan. 21, team captain Sam Ruffin delivered the decisive goal that sent another mens’ hockey team wearing USA sweaters into the gold medal game in a tournament at a major international sports festival.

Ruffin’s shot from the high slot 1 minute, 12 seconds into overtime carried Team USA to a 4-3 victory over Japan in the first semifinal of the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games. The Americans will face the Canada – which defeated Kazakhstan in the second semifinal – at 5 p.m. Sunday. Team USA beat the Soviet Union by the same score in February 1980 in the Miracle On Ice game to advance to the gold medal game two days later against Finland in the rink now named to honor the Olympic coach Herb Brooks.

Team USA is assured of its first FISU World University Games men’s ice hockey tournament medal since 1972 when it picked up the bronze in a three-team event. 

The Americans built at 2-0 lead in the first period and were up 3-2 in the third when Ryosuke Miura scored Japan’s third power-play goal of the game to send the game into overtime. 

In the extra session, the teams played with three skaters and a goalkeeper. Jack Jaunich, a student at Aurora University, set up Ruffin’s winning goal with a pivot in the right circle toward the net that pulled Japan’s defense out of position.

“My linemate got the puck, kind of rolled up high in the zone,” Ruffin said. “Two guys collapsed on him in the middle, the puck kind of popped to me, I took a shot and it went in.”

With a quick shot, Ruffin beat goalie Eiki Sato low to the glove side. Ruffin said that it was the type of goal in an important situation that young hockey players dream about.

“Especially in a rink like this that has so much history, to score a goal like that,” Ruffin said. “It was the whole team tonight. I just happened to be there, right time, right moment, to put it in. It was a team effort. We’re super grateful that we are going to play tomorrow.”

Ruffin, 24, grew up in Westfield, Indiana and is a student at Adrian College in Michigan. He was named the most valuable player of the tournament when Adrian won the NCAA Division III title on March 26 at the Olympic Arena in Lake Placid.

Team USA built its early lead on a goal by Austin Master at 1:47 into the game and a short-handed goal by Luke Aquaro at 11:56. The Japanese pulled even with power-play goals 22 seconds apart. Defenseman Shunta Kimura scored at 14:28 while the Japanese had a two-man advantage and defender Manato Sasanaka, 20, of Toyo University followed at 14:50.

American defenseman Brendan Mark put his team back in front with 14 seconds left in the period. Mark corralled a clearing pass near the blue line and put his long shot past Sato.

“I think we played pretty well after the first period,” Japan coach Perry Pearn said. “When you think about this game, you’ve got to think about what happened in the first period we gave up a short-handed goal on a play that normally we wouldn’t make. We had a player cut in the middle and turn the puck over. And we gave up a goal with 14 seconds left in the period after we won a faceoff.”

Team USA coach Mark Taylor applauded the work of the Japanese, who hung in the game despite being badly outshot.

“They are well-coached and they are well-disciplined as a team,” he said. “They are committed as a team to play a certain way that their coaches are telling them to play. We kind of knew that coming in. I thought they executed almost perfectly. They certainly did on the power play. We haven’t given up too many shorthanded goals in the whole tournament and they picked us pretty good. Credit to them. I thought we could win the game even and we were preaching to the guys to let’s try to stay out of the box and win the game even. That’s what we did. It just happened to be 3-on-3 instead of 5-on-5. I think we can be better than that. We have to give some credit to them for doing things to make us not as good.”

Pearn said that staying in its system gave a Japan the opportunity to get to overtime.  

“Even though we got outplayed, more so in the second period than the third, we relied on what we do well and defended while our goalie played excellent today,” he said. “We gave ourselves a chance.”