Did that really happen? Did Team USA really go 7-0 at the World Junior Championship on the way to gold? Did they really beat their two biggest rivals twice in the same tournament? Did Troy Terry really go 4-for-4 in a shootout? Did Tyler Parsons really make those saves? Were there really two shootouts? Seriously, did all of that happen?
The U.S. is World Junior Champion once again and they had to do it the hard way. Nothing came easy to this team and no matter what stood in their way, they found a way to overcome it. That’s what will make this particular title so memorable. This team was not favored, and rightly so. But they showed what can happen when a team comes together and every single player is on board, the coaches are well prepared and a few individuals step up to deliver in the biggest moments.
Another incredible thing that this group did was that they managed to capture a wide audience’s attention with their incredible final against Canada. #WJC2017 was a top trending topic in the United States on Twitter. Prominent sportswriters, politicians and sports personalities were tweeting about the game. Facebook and Twitter were flooded with American flag emojis and bar TVs across the country tuned into the World Junior Championship.
Having covered the tournament for the last seven years on this blog, I never thought I would see the tournament gain that much traction. It all had to do with the incredible theater the final provided, but good sports drama is just plain good TV. Also, NHL.com deciding to stream the game made for a much larger audience. I wonder if we’ll ever see the numbers for it since NHL Network is not rated by Nielsen, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it was a big night for NHL Network and NHL.com. The buzz was insane
This was a peak moment for this tournament in the United States and I don’t know if it can be replicated. What I do know is that this tournament is going to have a lot more fans eager to tune in now because how could you not after a game like that?
So, it’s time to wrap up the 2017 WJC. Here are some of the things I’ll remember about the tournament and I also decided to bring back the old player capsules I used to do after every tournament. So you’ll get my thoughts on all 23 USA players. Let’s get to it.
1. Champions walk together forever
One of the most famous quotes from the incredibly quotable former Flyers coach Fred “Fog” Shero was, “Win today and we walk together forever.”He wrote it on the chalk board in the dressing room before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Final.
It has been co-opted many times and almost every U.S. player said in their postgame scrums and interviews something along the lines of “we walk together forever.”
That was indicative of the family atmosphere that this team was able to build. It’s part of why the team was built the way it was. There were a lot of guys from the National Team Development Program, where “Champions walk together forever” is a common refrain. So a lot of these guys already know and care for each other a great deal.
But they had to take others in as well, and it has been a criticism of these teams at times that the NTDP guys and those from other programs don’t mesh as well. That may have even been true a few times, but it definitely wasn’t this time.
In his comments with NHL Network, goalie Tyler Parsons said that he had never played with any of the guys on this team growing up. There was no background. He didn’t know them and they didn’t know him. But the way they played in front of him and the confidence they had in him shows that he was part of the family right away. Parsons said he’ll remember the way the team came together most from this tournament.
One of the slogans this team adopted was “No daylight between us.” It was something they embodied throughout the tournament. No panic. No stress. Just everyone doing their job because they couldn’t let the guy next to him down.
I also wrote last night that the leadership group deserves a lot of credit for this and believe that even more now. Luke Kunin might be a future NHL captain. There’s no ego, only a focus on the job that needed to be done.
This team doesn’t win without finding a way to come together as quickly as they did. You can’t run the table in the Juniors without a tight group.
2. The coaching staff made all the right calls
In the World Juniors, coaches can be a huge factor. They set the lineup, they set the systems and they make a lot of the adjustments in game. Bob Motzko and his staff tinkered without micromanaging and they made a lot of the right decisions.
Much was made before the tournament about Alex DeBrincat being cut. I thought the cut was at least justifiable, even if I didn’t agree with it.
I don’t think there was any way this team was going to bring DeBrincat if he was going to be a 13th forward, a role they handed to little-used Patrick Harper. They also wanted to make sure they didn’t have too many right-hand shots. Only their left wings were lefties. That means that the two guys that beat out DeBrincat for the spot were Joey Anderson, who led all U.S. forwards in ice time in the gold-medal game’s overtime period, Jeremy Bracco, who was excellent throughout the tournament, and Troy Terry, who apparently is an American hero now.
Cutting DeBrincat was risky because of his scoring talent, but they found guys for the right roles and it’s hard to argue with 7-0.
The U.S. wanted balance throughout their lineup and they managed to find it after moving Tage Thompson around, eventually to the fourth line. Kieffer Bellows saw his role expand as the tournament moved forward. Terry was often with the fourth line making things happen with his speed. Anderson had the speed and two-way game to allow Clayton Keller and Colin White to dominate on the top line. Casey Fitzgerald and Joe Cecconi were given bigger jobs as games went on.
They found what worked and weren’t afraid to give guys a chance to prove themselves in big situations. That’s tough to do, but it worked. I thought the player deployment was really good all tournament.
Meanwhile, special teams was crucial. Both the power play and PK looked really strong, particularly in the final.
Also, the decision to rotate the goalies in the prelims may have been the reason Tyler Parsons was so sharp down the stretch late in the semis and final. Playing five games in 11 days instead of seven makes a big difference. Despite Joe Woll playing so well, particularly against Canada in the prelims, they gave Parsons the chance to finish what he started and he rewarded them.
Lastly, if you would have told me (or even if you would have told Troy Terry) he was going to be the team’s shootout specialist, I (and he) wouldn’t have believed you. But he took his first attempt so confidently that the coaches had enough faith to go back to him. That was a gutsy call from the staff.
I also think the coaches had a lot to do with the players staying calm, even when they faced deficits like they did in the gold-medal game. Team USA’s ability to respond to adversity, as I noted yesterday, was among their key attributes. That stability has to come from the top and I thought Bob Motzko exuded confidence throughout the whole tournament.
3. Charlie McAvoy and Clayton Keller made the tournament all-star team
The U.S. did not have any directorate award winners this year and even though it’s weird that the champ didn’t have a player named the best at his position, I don’t have a problem with the selections (though I’d have given directorate award for goaltending to Ilya Samsonov).
They did have two all-stars, though. Charlie McAvoy played great down the stretch and was Team USA’s best defenseman against Canada in the final. He logged major minutes all tournament and made some key offensive plays, none bigger than his goal and assist in the final.
Meanwhile, Clayton Keller was one of three forwards voted to the tournament all-star team by the media. He finished the tournament with a team-best 11 points, good for third in the tournament.
Here is the full list of directorate award winners and tournament all-star team selections.
Best Goalie: Felix Sandstrom (SWE)
Best Defenseman: Thomas Chabot (CAN)
Best Forward: Kirill Kaprizov (RUS)
Clayton Keller (USA) – Kirill Kaprizov (RUS) – Alex Nylander (SWE)
Thomas Chabot (CAN) – Charlie McAvoy (USA)
Ilya Samsonov (RUS)
4. How fun was that?
Over the years, I’ve kind of steeled myself against getting overly emotional about the WJC. Of course I want the U.S. to win, but I don’t want that to color my coverage too much.
I haven’t had so much fun covering a tournament, though. This team really got me. There’s just something about them.
When Terry scored the winning goal in the shootout, I jumped what felt like 10 feet (it was probably an inch or two). I hate shootouts as much as the next guy, but that was some good drama and to see a kid that I personally thought was on the bubble to even make the team, do what he did was pretty fun.
And how could you not love the final? Even if you’re Canadian, you have to admit that, that was a great hockey game. It was my personal favorite WJC game of all time, but I understand if you prefer the 2010 final, my fellow Americans.
There have been some amazing finals not involving the U.S. or Canada, too, let’s not forget. But if we’re talking North American games, that one was special.
I will not forget what this team did, because I didn’t really believe they could do it going in. Not feeling at all bad about being wrong.
Tyler Parsons (London Knights, CGY) — One of the true heroes for this U.S. team, Parsons showed incredible confidence in locking down Team USA’s key wins in the medal round. He also had one of his best games of the tournament against Russia in the prelims as the U.S. earned their first win over their European rivals since 1998. Parsons may not be the most technically sound goalie, but his aggressiveness in terms of cutting down the angle served him very well in the tournament. Also, it turns out that he’s a brilliant shootout goalie. I didn’t know much about Parsons beyond what I saw watching Memorial Cup games last year and needless to say, I came away extremely impressed by his presence in the net and ability to battle. He faced a lot of net-front scrambles and kept pucks out. Stat Line: 5-0-0-0, .917 save percentage, 2.18 GAA
Joe Woll (Boston College, TOR) — Woll looked great in wins over Slovakia and Canada, showing incredible poise. He really shut Canada down and did a tremendous job of not giving up many rebounds. There’s a simplicity to Woll’s game that makes it look like he doesn’t have to move too much to make the big saves. That comes from a really strong technical foundation. Goalies that play with that level of calmness and perfect positioning are going to have a lot of success in their careers. Stat Line: 2-0-0-0, .934 save percentage, 1.50 GAA.
Jake Oettinger (Boston University, 2017) — Oettinger did not dress in the tournament, which had to be difficult. That said, the U.S. wasn’t going to take three goalies unless they were sure their No. 3 was going to be a good teammate and buy in to what was happening. The draft-eligible Oettinger did that, by all accounts. His being able to see what the WJC is like up close also better prepares him for the battle with Woll for next year’s No. 1 job. Stat Line: N/A
Charlie McAvoy (Boston University, BOS) — If you want a perfect defenseman, you’re going to be looking forever with no luck. But McAvoy did so many things well in this tournament that any mistake in terms of a bad read or getting caught flat footed were minor blips on the radar. The minutes he gave USA in this tournament and the top competition he faced shows just how much he meant to this club. We saw flashes of McAvoy’s offensive potential much more in this tournament than we did last year. His patience on the goal to get USA going in the gold-medal game and the brilliant feed he gave Kieffer Bellows to start USA’s second rally were two of his best plays of the tournament. He’s got great physical strength, plays really well in his own zone and even though he doesn’t have the best speed, I thought his footwork was outstanding in this tournament. He was a leader in so many ways and made the absences of Zach Werenski and Noah Hanifin moot. Stat Line: 7 GP, 2-4–6 (Avg. 23:52 TOI)
Caleb Jones (Portland Winterhawks, EDM) — The maturation of Caleb Jones’ game was one of the highlights of this tournament. He always struck me as a bit raw, like he was on the cusp of something but not quite ready. He looked ready in this tournament. He and McAvoy were used in all situations and Jones showed that he has a lot of attributes that put him on an NHL track. I thought his skating was superb, his reads were spot on and he made some nice plays to get pucks up the ice. He was a work horse and made sure that McAvoy wasn’t going to be shouldering too heavy a load. Stat Line: 7 GP, 0-2–2 (Avg. 23:02 TOI)
Ryan Lindgren (Minnesota, BOS) — Unfortunately for Lindgren, he was felled by the illness that was going around the dressing room and couldn’t play in the gold-medal game. Before that, however, Lindgren performed at a high level defensively. I thought he played a really cautious, simple game and it worked perfectly for him. He was more of a depth defenseman based on his usage, but he gave Team USA effective minutes, blocked shots and did a lot of dirty work. He also was named the player of the game against Canada in the prelims. Overall, it was a really effective tournament for him. Stat Line: 6 GP, 0-1–1 (Avg. 13:22 TOI)
Adam Fox (Harvard, CGY) — Probably the best pure puck-mover on the blue line, Fox had his ups and downs in the tournament, but he had a lot of great moments. One of the things I’ll remember about his tournament is that he was on the ice for both of Canada’s first two goals against and arguably was at fault for both. But then he comes right back and ends the gold medal game with three assists and played a solid game the rest of the way. Another thing that stood out to me was Fox’s ability to extend plays at the offensive blue line. He plays really confidently there and had a few different instances where he walked the line and gave forwards more time to find space. He will be back on next year’s team and should see his role expand. Stat Line: 7 GP, 0-4–4 (Avg. 14:16 TOI)
Casey Fitzgerald (Boston College, BUF) — A lot of the defensemen seemed to struggle early in the tournament, but Fitzgerald was one who drastically improved in a really short amount of time. He played his way into a top-four role and made a bunch of really strong plays in his own zone. I often viewed Fitzgerald as more of a puck-mover, but I thought his work in the D zone was where he really benefited USA. He also was really strong in helping Team USA’s transition. Stat Line: 7 GP, 0-3–3 (Avg. 19:20 TOI)
Joe Cecconi (Michigan, DAL) — One of the more pleasant surprises of the tournament, Cecconi began the tournament primarily simply killing penalties and taking the odd shift. By the end, he was a regular, allowing Team USA to not drive their top blueliners into the ground. Meanwhile, Cecconi played extremely well in the defensive zone, particularly along the boards. I also thought he did a nice job when he had the puck, making quick and correct decisions. He’s not a guy you’re going to notice a lot, but he did exactly what Team USA needed him to do in this tournament and then some. Stat Line: 7 GP, 0-2–2 (Avg. 15:07 TOI)
Jack Ahcan (St. Cloud State, 2017) — Ahcan saw his duties fluctuate quite a bit over the course of the tournament. When Lindgren went down for the gold-medal game, Ahcan ended up playing a bunch more than he had in the tournament and he looked great doing it. I really like his mobility and puck-moving skills. There were a few instances where the size factor came into play, but overall, I thought he showed a lot of toughness and relentlessness in all three zones. Overall, I came away really liking his game and I would not be surprised to see him drafted after getting passed over last year. Stat Line: 7 GP, 0-1–1 (Avg. 13:04 TOI)
Clayton Keller (Boston University, ARI) — Dynamic, decisive and productive would be a few words to summarize Keller’s tournament. He was Team USA’s top scorer and I thought his work in the offensive zone throughout the tournament was a big factor in the team’s success. Getting sustained pressure is a lot easier when you have a guy like Keller, who creates so much time and space for himself that it’s a wonder the other team ever touches the puck. He is a special talent. Stat Line: 7 GP, 3-8–11
Colin White (Boston College, OTT) — White finished just one goal shy of tying the single-tournament record for goals by a U.S. player. Each of the seven goals he scored came in key moments of the game. None was bigger than the goal he scored to tie the final at 4-4. Whether it was off a skill play or a deflection, White was always getting to the net. I thought he was one of the team’s most consistent forwards throughout. Stat Line: 7 GP, 7-1–8
Luke Kunin (Wisconsin, MIN) — I’ve lauded Kunin for his leadership, but his performance throughout the tournament on the ice was pretty strong, too. He was constantly Team USA’s ice-time leader among forwards, being charged with going head-to-head with a lot of other teams’ top lines. He played a physical game, got to the net a lot and was one of the key penalty killers. Stat Line: 7 GP, 2-2–4
Jordan Greenway (Boston University, MIN) — If people weren’t all in on Greenway as a top prospect before the tournament, they should be now. The big forward was an absolute beast down low. His board work and net-front presence were constant thorns in the side of any opponent. Having a 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame helps, but I thought Greenway showed good footwork and particularly strong puck skills. He was making a lot of really good plays throughout and was one of Team USA’s most reliable forwards. Stat Line: 7 GP, 3-5–8
Jeremy Bracco (Kitchener Rangers, TOR) — Everyone knew about the skill level of Jeremy Bracco and he brought it in spades for Team USA. His excellent playmaking skills, where he combines his excellent on-ice vision with superb distribution abilities were fully on display. But he also showed off some keen finishing ability. He scored three goals in the tournament, but his biggest goal won’t go on his stat sheet. In the semifinal, Bracco had to score or the U.S. would have fallen to Russia in the shootout. The confidence he showed and the release he dropped on Ilya Samsonov was something special. Troy Terry deservedly gets a lot of credit for scoring three in that shootout, but it was Bracco who set up his chance to play hero. Stat Line: 7 GP, 3-2–5
Troy Terry (Denver, ANA) — The breakout star of the tournament for his work in the shootout, Terry’s entire tournament was really good. He played a lot on the fourth line and on the PK, but he still managed to produce at a relatively high rate. His speed made things really difficult on opposing defenses. But now Terry is as much of a household name as one can become at the World Juniors for scoring four shootout goals. He went five-hole every time, but with a different move in each, showing he was just unstoppable in that moment. Not even Terry thought he would be in that situation, but did he ever deliver. Stat Line: 7 GP, 4*-3–7
*In IIHF play, the person who scores a game-deciding goal in a shootout, they appear on the player’s stat line.
Jack Roslovic (Manitoba Moose, WPG) — Depth at center was one of this U.S. team’s great strength. In a lot of years, a player of Roslovic’s caliber would have been a No. 1 or No. 2 center, but he was the third-line guy on this team. He played his role really well, though. I thought he made that third line deadly thanks in large part to his speed and his ability to move the puck really well. He owns a modest statline, but I thought Roslovic was usually keeping the opposing defenses on their heels. Stat Line: 7 GP, 0-2–2
Joey Anderson (Minnesota Duluth, NJD) — While his role somewhat fluctuated throughout the tournament, Anderson found a home on the first line with Keller and White. His speed allowed him to keep up with those two and his two-way skills made that line more defensively sound. Anderson ended up seeing his role peak in the gold-medal game, where he was getting a regular shift and even ended up as the forward with the most ice time in overtime. Stat Line: 7 GP, 0-2–2
Kieffer Bellows (Boston University, NYI) — Bellows sure saved his best for last. After a somewhat underwhelming tournament, which featured more missed nets than goals, he scored twice in the gold-medal game. Once he got a good bounce right off his rear end, but the second showed his immense shooting abilities as he took a Charlie McAvoy pass and one-timed it from an awkward position. I think that gold-medal game could be a springboard for him as he returns to BU. Stat Line: 7 GP, 2-1–3
Tage Thompson (St. Louis Blues, STL) — After starting the tournament on the top line, Thompson kept getting dropped before ending the tournament on the fourth line. I don’t think he played poorly, they just had speedier options to get some run with White and Keller. When he did move down to the third line, there was more balanced scoring. He also had one of the better goals of the tournament and still managed four assists. Thompson is still rounding out his game, but you can see that he has the tools to be a pretty special player. Stat Line: 7 GP, 1-4–5
Tanner Laczynski (Ohio State, PHI) — Having a good fourth-line center can go a long way for any team. Laczynski was really good in his role, even though it meant limited ice time and not too many chances in high-leverage situations. He did really well on faceoffs and gave quality shifts with a lot of energy when called upon. Stat Line: 7 GP, 1-1–2
Erik Foley (Providence, WPG) — High energy, high speed and some physical aggression made Foley an ideal fourth-line winger. He didn’t get much of a chance to produce, but he made some nice plays in the tournament. His ability to get in on the forecheck quickly and go to work made sure that the fourth line was getting a lot out of their shifts. He’s a top line player at Providence, but you need guys to take roles they’re not used to. Foley did that and it made USA better because of it. Stat Line: 7 GP, 0-1–1
Patrick Harper (Boston University, NSH) — As the 13th forward, Team USA didn’t call on Harper nearly as much as I thought they would. He’s been such a dynamic talent at Boston University, but he didn’t get much of a chance here. He did, however, score Team USA’s first goal of the tournament and did what he could with the limited ice time he had. He is eligible for next year’s team and I would not be surprised to see him push for a top-six role. Stat Line: 7 GP, 1-0–1
This U.S. team embodied a lot of the things that I’ve come to enjoy about the game. They had such great speed and skill, but there was also a level of camaraderie that translated in the way they talked about each other and how they played for each other. It’s pretty rare to see something like this, so you have to enjoy it.
This team was special and that’s why they’re also champions now.
This tournament was so much fun to cover. It was made better by the many of you who reached out with kind and supportive words once I brought the blog back. I am so thankful to all of you who checked out the blog.
I’ve got one more post before this little corner of the internet closes up for good. I’ll have some details to share as to why that is. But thank you again from the bottom of my heart for making this such a wonderful space to write in for all those years.