VICTORIA — Jack Hughes was pleased to finally get back into the United States' lineup and help contribute to a 3-1 victory over the Czech Republic on Wednesday in the quarterfinal of the world junior hockey championship.
Despite missing three tournament round robin games with an undisclosed injury, the 17-year-old forward made his presence felt every time he was on the ice. Hughes had an assist on Noah Cates's goal in the first period.
"I thought I was ready to play a couple days ago," he said after the game. "It was a lot of fun to be out there. We played a really good game tonight. It was really good for our team."
Josh Norris had the eventual winner early in the second period as the United States held off a stubborn Czech Republic.
Cates opened scoring for the Americans and Alexander Chmelevski added an empty-net goal in the final minute of play. Norris was sent in alone on a breakaway at 6:10 in the second period and put the puck between goalie Lukas Dostal's legs.
Despite being outshot 41-19, the Czechs kept the game close, with Martin Kaut's power-play goal coming midway through the third period.
Dostal made numerous third-period saves to keep his team in the game, turning back the Americans from point-blank range.
Kaut said the Czechs couldn't score despite being loaded with offensive firepower.
"Today we had maybe 20 shots and the USA had 42," he said. "It's not normal for us and now we are out. I'm so sorry."
The Americans led 2-0 after two periods, outshooting the Czechs by a 26-11 margin.
American coach Mike Hastings said he was glad to have Hughes back in the lineup.
"He was electric," he said. "He makes a play. "We're looking for guys who can make plays. We tried to manage his minutes a little bit and he handled it very well."
Hastings said Hughes and his older brother, Quinn, who plays defence for the United States, were a dominant force Wednesday.
"They do a good job," he said. "There's a dynamic there that's pretty unique."
Hastings said earlier the team was watching Hughes's injury progress and was planning to only play him when he was most needed.
Jack Hughes, projected to be chosen as one of the NHL's top draft picks this year, said he was looking forward to meeting Canada at the tournament, but the Canadians were eliminated in overtime by Finland earlier Wednesday.
"Growing up, USA-Canada in Canada, that's a dream come true," he said. "It kind of sucks we won't be able to play them."