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USA Takes Gold at World Juniors

Four preliminary-round matchups; a quarterfinal game; a semifinal thriller; and one golden opportunity to secure a perfect record for the Red, White, and Blue at the 2017 World Junior Championships held in Toronto and Montréal. The United States went a perfect 6-0-0-0 at the annual tournament this year leading up to Thursday night’s gold-medal game. But if they wanted to win gold, they would have to face Team Canada at one of the most prestigious hockey venues in the world, the Bell Centre in Montréal. If you saw the game, you may skip a few paragraphs because you already know how great Thursday night’s matchup was (unless you want to relive the drama). If you did not, I feel terrible for you, so keep reading.

After the initial faceoff, Team USA came out strong with good puck protection, and some play in the Canadian zone. That ended very quickly. After moving the puck out of the zone by means of a method that might have nabbed him for a holding call had it not been a championship game, Canadian defenseman Thomas Chabot moved quickly up the ice to join the rush. It is quite unbelievable that a 6’5”, 229-pound player wearing a red hockey jersey would go unnoticed, but by the time the puck found the tape of Chabot’s stick, it was too late. Four minutes later, another Canadian defenseman, Jeremy Lauzon, found the back of the net after USA captain Luke Kunin failed to clear the puck out of the zone. Team USA was lucky to survive the rest of the first period after Canada laid on a relentless forecheck and attack. Canada led 2-0 after one.

Whatever was said in the American locker room during the first intermission seemed to have worked. Team USA came out of the gate stronger. The American forecheck and puck movement in the Canadian zone was much better as Team USA did a better job moving their feet and cycling the puck. Better play paid off quickly with a goal by USA defenseman Charlie McAvoy three minutes into the second. A too-many-men penalty on Canada proved costly as Islanders’ prospect Keiffer Bellows tipped the puck in off a shot from Long Island-native Adam Fox from the point. After being dominated by Canada in the first period, Team USA more than doubled its shot totals in the second.

Less than a minute into the third period, Bellows, who tied the game at two, took a penalty for tripping (a knee-on-knee collision with Canadian forward Mathieu Joseph), allowing Nicolas Roy to score halfway through the power play. Less than three minutes later, Joseph would exact revenge by scoring on his first shift back from the trainer’s room. Canada now led 4-2.

But when it all seemed over, Bellows redeemed himself by digging out a pass at his feet from McAvoy to score a one-timer. This was a goal-scorer’s goal – a shooter’s goal. Positioned on the right wing, Bellows faced a tough pass because he is a left-handed shot. McAvoy’s pass was a bit in front of Bellows, making for a difficult maneuver if Bellows is to have a shot. But Bellows dropped one knee, dug deep, and fired the shot off the pass into the back of the net. The WJC gave Bellows an opportunity to show the hockey world (and more importantly, the Islanders) that while he might be struggling this season with just four goals playing with Boston University, he is indeed a great shooter and a pure goal-scorer.

Echoing the quick pace of the third, and the frequency in which previous goals were scored, Colin White perfected the second comeback for Team USA to tie the game at four apiece. Fox is credited with his third assist on the night with White’s goal. Canadian goaltender and Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect, Carter Hart, had been fantastic through the first 40 minutes of play. Hart secured the gold-medal start after perfectly relieving Connor Ingram in the semifinals against Sweden. In the third period, however, Hart made exactly zero saves, as Team USA was only credited with two shots, both goals. I’m not sure which is worse…

Nevertheless, sixty minutes proved not enough time. Overtime in the gold-medal game is a full 20 minutes, five-on-five. Evidently, eighty minutes was simply not enough time, despite huge scoring chances for both sides, including a wide-open opportunity for Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois, when a pass from Isles’ prospect Matthew Barzal skipped and hit the heel of his stick blade. Dubois looked to the heavens in despair, not knowing what was to come.

After 20 minutes of overtime, the gold-medal game rules dictate the matchup to be decided by a shootout. Let me first begin by declaring how much I despise shootouts. Shootouts are nothing but an individual skills competition designed purely for entertainment purposes. Sure, they are terrific for the casual fan who does not know a single player’s name on the ice, save from a superstar or two. But to the die-hard hockey fans, it’s about the team-game; let the players battle it out in multiple overtime periods, just like the NHL does in the playoffs. Now that is more entertaining!

That being said, the shootout, a five-round showdown gave an unknown kid with little promise the opportunity of a lifetime. Only one goal was scored in the shootout. The lone scorer was none other than the previous night’s American hero in the shootout, Tory Terry. Remember that name. Move over, TJ Oshie. Suddenly, Terry becomes an overnight American hero. After going perfect on three shots, all five-hole, in the semifinal game against the Russians, USA head coach Bob Motzko chose Terry in the fourth round, and was not disappointed. Terry successfully opted for the five-hole again. American goaltender Tyler Parsons blanked all five Canadian shooters to secure gold for Team USA.

Any time the United States faces Canada on the ice, viewers can expect an entertaining matchup. However, last night’s tilt was extraordinary. The game had all the components needed for a Disney movie: it was riveting; it was dramatic; it featured an underdog story; the underdog had to comeback from a two-goal deficit; the underdog was forced to close the gap on two goals a second time; after eighty minutes of being completely dominated, the underdog managed to hang on by a rope and was eventually triumphant.

Thursday night’s World Junior Championship matchup also taught us a few things. The first three goals were scored by defensemen for both teams, showing the importance in today’s game of hockey in utilizing the blue-liners, and the significance a defender can have simply by knowing when to join the rush. Though Bobby Orr revolutionized the game one-half century ago, Orr was undoubtedly ahead of his time. Players are still learning how to perfect the art of the two-way game. Its importance can be quantified by saying that the two-way game is everything about hockey. A master of the two-way game is amongst the greatest players to step out onto the ice.

Another thing we learned is that the World Juniors needs to be picked up by a national broadcasting syndicate in the United States. I understand not showing the preliminary games on national television. But if the Unites States ends up in the quarterfinals, and continues on, access to this matchup should not be limited to those with NHL Network.

This leads me into my next point. If a standard cable network doesn’t showcase at least the USA games in the tournament because of a supposed lack of interest, there is a major missed opportunity there. For the generation in its 20s and 30s right now, this generation grew up with a pivotal thrilling Disney trilogy: The Mighty Ducks. D-2 is highly regarded as the best of the trilogy. In D-2, the Ducks head to the Junior Olympics held in Los Angeles, a new hockey hotbed at the time thanks to Peter Pocklington and Wayne Gretzky. The generation before was eye-witness to perhaps the most triumphant American victory of all time, the 1980 Miracle on Ice at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. Was last night’s matchup comparable to D-2? No – it was better because it was real. Was it comparable to the 1980 Miracle against the Soviets? Absolutely, because it was a miracle that the USA went a perfect 7-0-0-0 in the tournament, beating Canada twice, including the gold-medal game despite Canada being heavily favored to win it all on home turf. Is it as triumphant? Maybe yes, maybe no.

The question of whether Thursday’s gold-medal matchup was better than the 1980 Miracle game is irrelevant. To many of the American kids who played in the matchup, last night was the greatest moment of their lives, and for some, will always be that way. These kids are no doubt the future stars of the NHL. For the young Canadian men, last night’s game was a lesson on hockey and life, in general. Sometimes, you can do everything right. But a couple small mistakes could cost you everything you have. The sting of losing is one that forces a person to reevaluate, reconstruct, and return. Once someone experiences the feeling of losing in a huge moment, that feeling will drive that person to never lose again. Conversely, for those who won, they now know what it takes to win, and how to properly secure a win rather than hang on by a thread. Learning how to win early is an invaluable lesson before arriving in the NHL.

I alluded earlier to Troy Terry, a young man with nothing to lose and everything to gain in the tournament. Terry was drafted 148th-overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2015. That’s the fifth round – not what we would expect from a player appearing at the World Juniors. The Denver, Colorado-native had put up decent numbers last year as a freshman with the University of Denver – 41 games played, nine goals, and 13 assists. This season, in 18 games, Terry has nine goals and eight assists. At just 19-years old, of smaller build than most hockey players (6’0”, 165 lbs.), Terry will take some time to grow as a person and as a player before making it to the NHL. No problem. Ask Pat Cannone, the Bayport, New York-native about the importance of developing one’s game, rather than rushing a player to the NHL (Cannone made his NHL-debut with the Minnesota Wild at 30-years old in December of 2016). While Cannone has since been sent back the Iowa Wild, he remains a viable option for Minnesota. Perseverance is key; life is a lesson, from birth to death, not a race to the grave.

Team USA by the numbers: a total of nineteen players on Team USA play college hockey, further evidence that the NCAA is a proven alternative route to the NHL. Six players are teammates at Boston University. Team USA captured its fourth gold medal at the WJC Thursday. Three players are teammates at Boston College. Three players hail from the St. Louis area. Three players hail from Long Island, New York. The World Junior Championships was decided by a shootout only twice in IIHF history, last night being the second. Only two players play in the OHL, one in the WHL, and one in the AHL. The New Jersey Devils are represented by one prospect on the gold-medal winning club in forward Joey Anderson, currently a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The New York Islanders’ one prospect on Team USA is Kieffer Bellows, who scored two big goals in last night’s championship.

Team Canada put forth an incredible effort Thursday night. There is still no doubt that the Canadians are the world leaders in the sport of hockey. Canada outshot the Americans 50-36. The best player was undoubtedly Thomas Chabot, who opened the scoring last night. Chabot was named tournament MVP, and for good reason. The 6’5” defenseman scored at least one point in every game played at the tournament. He tied Canadian-captain Dylan Strome for most points for Canada with ten (four goals, six assists). When Chabot safely lands a spot on the Ottawa Senators’ roster, the Sens will surely wreak havoc as they will now have two viable offensive weapons coming from the blue line in Chabot and Erik Karlsson.

Finally, I will conclude with a message to Dylan Strome: don’t stop. Strome was drafted third-overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015. You may not remember that because he was drafted behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. He has had a problem remaining in the Coyotes’ lineup. His older brother, Ryan, currently plays for the Isles. Dylan will always have something to prove. But that will keep him going and keep him hungry.

Congratulations to Team USA on winning gold! You earned it. Cherish the victory. Be proud of gold. Next year, Team USA will be defending champs at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Buffalo, New York.

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Evan is the Hockey Editor for He provides coverage of the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Philadelphia Flyers, as well as some league-wide content.

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