Canada could taste revenge, but Team USA wasn't having it. On tired legs, with the snow coming down hard, the Americans refused to give in on home ice in Friday's marquee matchup of the preliminary round at the 2018 World Junior Championship, rallying from two goals down to win 4-3 after a shootout.
In the first outdoor game ever played at Junior Worlds, Team USA took to New Era Field in Orchard Park to face off against Canada in a rematch of last year's gold medal game. It was the Americans who came in as reigning champs, but they also came in less than 24 hours removed from. Canada, meanwhile, entered the game 2-0 and on a day's rest.
The fresh legs may have helped Canada, as they jumped out to quick 2-0 lead with two power-play goals in the opening period. That quick start looked to be a major benefit for the Canadians, especially as the winter conditions worsened and snow moved in. As we've seen so often in these outdoor games, it's hard for teams to get their offensive game going when the rain and snow affects the quality of ice.
Nonetheless, the United States was able to finally get on the board with about three and a half minutes remaining in the second period. A two-man advantage for USA paved the way for a goal from Kieffer Bellows, cutting Canada's lead in half. But it didn't last long, as Canada responded with a goal of its own just over a minute later. It was a deflating conversion that quickly stripped the Americans of the momentum they worked so hard to acquire throughout a solid second period.
An ugly third period hit by Canada's Maxime Comtois on USA defenseman Ryan Lindgren led to a two-minute boarding call (though there was some discussion about whether it should have been a major and a game misconduct) and that proved to be costly for the Canadians.
The United States took advantage of that man-advantage with a goal from Scott Perunovich, cutting Canada's lead to 3-2. Team USA netted the equalizer shortly thereafter on the strength of a Casey Mittelstadt to Brady Tkachuk connection down low.
That game-tying goal set up a thrilling finish but, ultimately, this one ended the exact same way that the inaugural NHL Winter Classic did in Orchard Park 10 years ago -- with a shootout in the snow. And it also ended the exact same way that last year's gold medal game did -- with a shootout victory for the Americans.
Bellows and Brady Tkachuk both scored for Team USA in the shootout, while Canada missed all four of their attempts in the breakaway competition. Game, set, match.
Which NHL prospects came up big on Friday?
Russia's Klim Kostin continued his strong showing in the preliminary round with two goals against Belarus on Friday afternoon. The St. Louis Blues prospect (drafted in 2017 with the first-round pick the Penguins traded for Ryan Reaves) showed off his strong skating and good finishing ability with his second and third goals of the tournament. Andrei Svechnikov (projected top prospect eligible for 2018 Draft) assisted on both of Kostin's goals.
Team Canada captain and Calgary Flames propsect Dillon Dubé also scored his first goal of the preliminary round with a power play conversion. The 19-year-old forward came up big with an absolute rip that found its way past American netminder Jake Oettinger.
Oettinger, a Dallas Stars prospect, had a solid day in net and came up big in the second half of the contest. The American goalie also found himself with an assist on the scoresheet when he made a heads-up play and found Casey Mittelstadt (Buffalo Sabres prospect) with a great pass to setup Kieffer Bellow's power play goal. It was the third goal in as many games for Bellows, who went to the New York Islanders with the 19th overall pick in 2017.
USA's Casey Mittelstadt, a Sabres prospect playing in front of his future hometown fans, had another big performance, picking up the primary assist on all three of the American goals and Player of the Game honors. That gives the 19-year-old Mittelstadt six points (three goals, three assists) through the first three games of the preliminary round. The dynamic forward is some kind of creator on offense and Buffalo fans have to be pleased with what they've seen so far.
What else happened in the preliminary round?
It was a light day in Buffalo, as there was only one other game aside from the marquee outdoor matchup
- Russia picked up its second win of the preliminary round with a 5-2 victory over Belarus
What happens next in the World Juniors?
The United States and Canada both now have two wins and a loss in the preliminary round, but the Canadians still sit atop the Group A table with a lead in points because their loss came in overtime. Canada controls their own destiny and will have an easier road to finish out the prelims. They returns to action Saturday night with a game against Denmark, while the U.S. will next face Finland in a tough matchup on Sunday.
The 2018 World Juniors preliminary round continues through Dec. 31 before relegation in January, which precedes the playoffs. Here's a complete rundown of the next wave of games through the end of the year:
Saturday, Dec. 30
- Belarus vs. Czech Republic, 12 p.m. (NHL Network, TSN 1/4)
- Switzerland vs. Sweden, 2 p.m. (TSN5)
- Slovakia vs. Finland, 4 p.m. (NHL Network, TSN 1/4/5)
- Canada vs. Denmark, 8 p.m. (NHL Network, TSN 1/4/5)
Sunday, Dec. 31
- Czech Republic vs. Switzerland, 12 p.m. (NHL Network, TSN 1/3)
- Finland vs. United States, 4 p.m. (NHL Network, TSN 1/3)
- Denmark vs. Slovakia, 6 p.m. (TSN2)
- Sweden vs. Russia, 8 p.m. (NHL Network, TSN 1/3)