The U.S. National Junior Team faces Finland today in its final Group A preliminary round game of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. Puck drop is set for 3 p.m. and will be televised live on NHL Network.
THE SERIES VS. FINLAND
All-time, the U.S. is 11-3-0-16-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L-T) against Finland in tournament play. This is the first tournament meeting since the teams opened preliminary round play against one another at the 2015 event in Montreal. There, the U.S. skated to a 2-1 shootout win behind a 28-save performance from Thatcher Demko (San Diego, Calif.).
The U.S. and Finland have combined for four of the last five IIHF World Junior Championship gold medals. The U.S., which won last year, also won in 2013 while Finland claimed gold in 2014 before winning on home ice two years later in 2016.
Entering the final day of preliminary round games, the United States has a trio of players in the top 10 of several statistical categories.
Casey Mittelstadt (Eden Prairie, Minn./University of Minnesota) ranks second among all skaters with six points (3-3), is tied for fourth overall with three goals and shared sixth place in assists with three. Also in the top 10 in both goals and points is Kieffer Bellows (Edina, Minn./Portland Winterhawks), who shares the tournament lead in goals (four) and sits 10th in points (four).
Among starting goaltenders, Joseph Woll (St. Louis, Mo./Boston College) ranks second in goals against average (1.51) and third in .928 save percentage. Additionally, he is one of three goaltenders to register a shutout.
Additionally, the U.S. ranks top five in several categories while being the most disciplined team in the tournament with only seven penalties taken. The U.S. sits third in save percentage (.906%), goals against average (1.47) and fifth in power play efficiency (30.77%).
GIONTA VISITS TEAM USA
Before its practice yesterday, the U.S. National Junior Team received a locker room visit from Brian Gionta (Rochester, N.Y.), who recently captained the 2017 U.S. Men’s Select Team at the Deutschland Cup and is an Olympic hopeful for this year’s U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team.
Gionta has represented Team USA at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, the IIHF Men’s World Championship (2000, 2001, 2005), the IIHF World Junior Championship (1998, 1999) and also played for the U.S. at the 2004 Deutschland Cup.
After a 15-year career in the NHL, including stops in New Jersey (2001-2009), Montreal (2009-2014) and Buffalo (2014-2017), Gionta stepped away from the NHL after last season. His career has included a Stanley Cup title in New Jersey in 2003 and seven seasons as an NHL captain, including four in Montreal and three with Buffalo.
“You gotta come together as a group as quickly as you can but embrace the opportunity,” said Gionta. “These guys have a great opportunity to win gold, they have to seize that. Back-to-back gold for the U.S. at the World Juniors would be an unbelievable thing for USA Hockey and for the nation. For us alums that have been part of this World Juniors, for them to go back to back would be pretty special.”
THINGS WORTH MENTIONING
Friday’s U.S.-Canada outdoor game at New Era Field set a new IIHF World Junior Championship attendance record with 44,592 fans, besting the 20,380 mark set in the gold medal-game of the 2009 tournament in Ottawa, Ontario … The U.S. wore a special Bills-replica jersey that uilized jersey numbers on the front and back, simlar to an NFL jersey, with colors similar to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills … Brady Tkachuk’s shootout move against Canada was also used his brother, Matthew, on a game-winning shootout attempt for the Calgary Flames in a 5-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils.
Source: USA Hockey