December 30, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

U.S. Tops Canada in Shootout Amid Record Crowd and Falling Snow

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor (@CHN_AdamWodon)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The United States and Canada has become a big rivalry at the World Junior Championships because of games like this. And because the United States has become a consistent formidable opponent.

Once again, like last year, coming back from down two goals, Team USA overtook Canada in a shootout in a preliminary round game. The U.S., because it lost to Slovakia in a stunner the night before, still needs a miracle to finish first in pool play — a loss by Canada to Denmark, and a U.S. win over Finland — but it was at least able to erase the sting of Thursday's loss and win the grudge match.

"It's a rival, a heated rival," Team USA and St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. "And the only way it's a rivalry is that both teams have to win. And the pendulum will come back some day, I just hope it's not this year. But it will come back because that's what happens with rivals."

To add to the intrigue, the game was played in front of a World Junior-record crowd of 44,592, the first outdoor game in the tournament's history, at New Era Field, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. A lot of those fans filed in late, thanks to long lines at the Canada-U.S. border for fans coming from the north, and long lines to enter the stadium itself. But when they did, they were treated to a thrill.

Snow started falling midway through the first period, and was heaviest at the beginning of the third. It started to taper off as Team USA mounted its comeback, with Casey Mittelstadt setting up a pair of goals just 34 seconds apart. The first was by Minnesota-Duluth's Scott Perunovich — one of three UMD defensemen and five players overall on the roster — and came on a 5-on-3. The latter was Team USA's only even-strength goal of the game, when Minnesota's Mittelstadt set up Boston University's Brady Tkachuk on a near-identical play, from behind the net to Tkachuk who was barreling towards the net.

Tkachuk, who was juggled onto Mittelstadt's line halfway through the game, mainly because of an injury to Michigan's Will Lockwood, nearly won the game in regulation, but whistled one just wide from the slot in the closing moments.

"We started to juggle all the lines, but Casey was going," Motzko said. "Casey Mittelstadt had some game tonight. And when that happened, we had Will up on that line for a while until he went down, we were just juggling to try and find someone to throw a spark. And Tkachuk's done that, you can go back to last summer, he's had a knack for the dramatic."

But the comeback had been made, forcing OT, something that was seemingly more difficult in the snow.

"At the end of the second period, we thought we were playing pretty well," Motzko said. "We could get pucks deep and use our size and some of our speed to get to pucks. We thought we were getting chances. Great chances were hard to come by, but we liked that we were on top of the puck."

UMD forward Joey Anderson said, "The biggest thing was staying positive. We knew if we got the first one we'd get the next one. We kept plugging away. ... We played the game the way we wanted to play. We had our game plan and stuck to it."

"We're a team, unity, we're all together," St. Cloud forward Ryan Poehling said. "When we're down, we don't blame each other, we just rise above it."

That improvised line of Mittelstadt, Tkachuk and Kailer Yamomoto dominated much of the latter part of the game, and was able to play a lot thanks to the numerous stoppages. The teams switched ends at the 10-minute mark of the third period, to make sure the conditions were even for both sides, and there were frequent stoppages to shovel snow off the ice.

"There's no question, with all the snow shoveling and changing sides, we shortened our bench. And we're off tomorrow," Motzko said.

The overtime was 3-on-3, but neither team generated much.

The shootout was not as chaotic as last year's, when Team USA won it to take the gold medal from Canada, but again the U.S. had the upper hand. Boston University goaltender Jake Oettinger stopped all four shots he faced, while Kieffer Bellows and Tkachuk had shootout goals for Team USA.

"It was loose, guys were talking about how great a story it will be if we came back and won," Mittelstadt said. "And it happened, so years down the road, we'll be talking about it."

Bellows, who played for BU last season before departing for Major Junior, also had the first goal of the game for the Americans, rifling a one-timer after another feed from Mittelstadt. Mittelstadt, playing this tournament in front of what figures to be his eventual NHL fans (he was drafted last June by Buffalo in the first round), had three assists and was named Player of the Game.

Team Canada had the upper hand early, thanks to two power-play goals. The first was scored by Massachusetts' Cale Makar, another first-round NHL pick and one of three NCAA players on Team Canada, a rarity. The others are BU defenseman Dante Fabbro and Colgate goaltender Colton Point, who started the last game against Slovakia and had a shutout win, but didn't play against the U.S.

The U.S. now plays Finland, and then it's on to the medal round starting next Tuesday.

"We tried to put (the Slovakia loss) behind us, it was a new day," Tkachuk said. "We just wanted to go out there and play for each other. ... (Down 2-2), we were trying to stay positive, and we were saying it was going to be an awesome story at the end of it.

"We weren't happy about last night. We'd rather take a loss early in the tournament ... so that definitely fueled our fire, because we didn't want that to happen again."

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