Two rivals, both alike in skill level, in frigid lake-effect-snow-ridden Buffalo where we lay our scene—
Okay, yes, that outdoor game yesterday cracked me. Look, the idea of an outdoor game between the USA and Canada seemed great when first conceived. A gimmicky money-grab, but still a cool, unique experience that had never been part of World Juniors before
The execution was a little different.
I won’t deny that the USA/CAN game, in the snow, made for some gorgeous visuals. But there was also enough snow cleared off the ice at the stoppages for each team to build a pretty respectable snow fort. I’m not sure how much you can take, analysis-wise, from this game moving forward in the tournament, but I picked out a few things.
First things first: Oettinger looked pretty good starting at about the halfway mark of the game. I didn’t notice a specific turning point, just that he felt gradually stronger. I want to see him against Finland, indoors, as the hockey gods intended to get a better read on his play, though. No other game in the tournament is going to involve a blizzard.
Canada started strong, and the US did not. That’s undeniable, as is the fact that the Canadian power play is quite dangerous. But the US kicked their play up after the first Canadian goal, outshooting them from that point on, and once they realized they couldn’t win playing fancy, they broke through Hart.
That was a key takeaway for me. The US, at some point, simplified their game—and it’s not the ideal game they want to play, but they were able to adjust to the situation on the fly, and that’s important. Also, the relentless persistence of Jones, Mittelstadt, and Yamamoto was key to this game. I want to see them together against Finland. Mittelstadt set up the last two goals, and is my favorite for the US’s tournament MVP until I’m proven wrong.
Another note: I’ve been really disappointed in the officiating so far this tournament. I’m not here to claim the officials are biased in favor of one team or another, and I don’t care who the calls go for or against. But in a sport where head injuries are a serious problem that needs addressing, I don’t understand how the hit by Comtois on Ryan Lindgren is called a minor penalty. And I’d say the same thing if it was Lindgren hitting Comtois. If you see a guy’s numbers all the way in and you still hit him like that, you don’t belong on the ice.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with Quinn Hughes yesterday, but that didn’t surprise me. Bad outdoor ice and snow piling everywhere isn’t exactly the ideal environment for the speedy puck-moving game he wants to play, so from the start I didn’t expect him to be a huge factor.
You know who did impress me, though? Cale Makar. One day Ducharme is going to wake up and realize he should give Makar far more ice time than he’s had so far. Unfortunately for Canada, right now it looks like that day won’t come till after the tournament. At any rate, congratulations, Avs fans. I liked this kid a lot prior to the draft last year, but what I’ve seen this year makes me like him even more. He’s the real deal.
I was also impressed by Brady Tkachuk, who is exactly the kind of guy you want on top of his game in a situation like yesterday’s outdoor adventure. Tkachuk is gritty in the good way, and drives the net relentlessly. It’s no surprise he scored the tying goal. He had another great chance (set up by, of course, Mittelstadt) at the end of the third, though he shot high. He also pointed out a huge divot to the ice crew halfway through overtime, when the teams switched ends, likely saving a teammate a serious injury. He was my second choice for player of the game (behind Mittelstadt, of course)
Speaking of injuries, the USA’s situation got worse. Will Lockwood seems to have re-injured the shoulder he injured in the first pre-tournament game. With Logan Brown out, that’s not an ideal situation. Fortunately, Brown’s injury has thus far been reported as minor. Let’s hope it’s short-lived.
Team USA faces off against Finland Sunday at 4pm, where I imagine we’ll get a better idea of who this team is right now than we did Friday. But a win over Canada is nothing to sneeze at, even a shootout win, and after the loss to Slovakia I imagine it was exactly the boost this team needed.