BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Shooters shoot. Even if they aren’t falling, a shooter can only get back into a rhythm by staying the course and taking what’s given.
Justin Guterding had been going through the motions of a rare shooting slump at The World Games. In three Group A contests, Guterding tallied four goals on 21 shots — an unsightly mark of 19 percent.
The best way to shake off a case of the yips is to keep going. Guterding didn’t shy away from firing when given time and room, and his persistence paid off Monday. The Duke alum scored four goals on five shots in a 17-12 win over Japan in a men’s Sixes semifinal at PNC Field, doubling his tournament goals total and raising that shooting percentage in the process.
The U.S. men play Canada for the gold medal on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. Central. Canada advanced by dispatching Great Britain 22-11.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit in the shooting department, but I’ve been getting the looks, which is something that’s a little more frustrating,” Guterding said. “Most of those looks that I get and have gotten in the past, I’ve buried.”
Guterding opened the scoring for the U.S., and Tom Schreiber followed for a quick 2-0 lead. Japan, one of the surprises of the tournament after beating the Haudenosaunee on Sunday, quickly erased the deficit.
Skilled, fast and fit, Japan held leads of 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4 before Ryan Conrad (three goals) knotted the score at 5 and Brian Tevlin found Connor Kirst on the doorstep for a 6-5 lead. The U.S. didn’t trail again, but Japan continued to keep it close.
A rocket from Shinya Tateishi (four goals) cut the U.S. lead to 8-7 at the end of the first quarter.
“We talked about punching them in the mouth, and we got punched in the mouth,” coach Andy Shay said about Japan’s hot start.
The U.S. held Japan to just five goals the rest of the way, in large part due to a change in defensive strategy. Liam Byrnes said the first quarter has been a feeling-out process throughout the entire tournament as the U.S. learns how each nation approaches the Sixes discipline.
Without the defensive performance the U.S. put forth in the second quarter, Japan could have hung around even longer. In the eight-minute period, the U.S. forced four shot clock violations and twice forced Japan to run the clock down to one second. Both of those possessions resulted in rushed, errant shots that weren’t even on goal.
“The adjustment after that first quarter was to get more pressure on ball, everyone else shrink in and make it difficult for them to get to the middle,” Byrnes said. “In that first quarter, they were right on top of [goalie Jack Kelly]. Once we shrunk and clogged up the middle, that’s when we started getting the shot clocks.”
The U.S. led 11-8 at halftime and took a 14-10 lead on back-to-back lefty finishes by Colin Heacock (three goals). Tomoki Umehara (four goals) made it 14-11 at the end of the third period.
Umehara scored once more to start the fourth quarter, but that would be Japan’s final tally. Kirst finished a Tom Schreiber feed to go up 15-12, then the U.S. forced another shot clock violation. The defense stepped up a few minutes later, as a Japan transition opportunity was wasted when Kirst perfectly timed a stick check that turned into Conrad’s third goal of the game.
The U.S. has allowed just 41 goals in four games, a credit to the adjustments made by the players and coaching staff.
“We did a really good job subbing in the second quarter, getting our defensive guys on,” Guterding said. “They were subbing a lot in transition, so we were able to get our defensive guys on. Zach Goodrich and Liam Byrnes, those guys just did an unbelievable job.”
To beat Canada, which has scored 94 goals in four games and boasts a roster littered with offensive talents like Dhane Smith, Josh Byrne and Jeff Teat, the U.S. defense will have to disrupt a unit that’s yet to be tested. Byrnes acknowledged that Canada rostered more offensive players than the U.S., which opted for a more balanced approach. That means dictating the flow and making things a little ugly might be the formula for capturing gold.
“A win’s a win at the end of the day,” Byrnes said. “We’re good with scrapping it up. Whatever it takes.”
Germany 16, Israel 11
Haudenosaunee 19, Australia 12
United States 17, Japan 12
Canada 22, Great Britain 11
TUESDAY’S MEN’S SCHEDULE
ALL TIMES CENTRAL
Bronze Medal Game
Japan vs. Great Britain, 7 p.m.
Gold Medal Game
United States vs. Canada, 8:30 p.m.
Streaming at: https://www.theworldgames.org/pages/twg2022streaming