Friday’s game between the United States and Canada at the 2018 World Junior Championship is one that won’t soon be forgotten by those that got to watch it.
It will also, probably, never be forgotten by those that got to actually play in it.
The first outdoor game in World Juniors history was a wild affair between hockey’s two biggest superpowers that ended in dramatic fashion, with the U.S. staging a 3rd period comeback to eventually win 4-3 in the shootout, all the while as a blizzard relentlessly dropped snow onto the rink.
Dallas Stars goaltending prospect Jake Oettinger was in net for the Americans. He might have had a hard time seeing the puck at times through all that snow, but it didn’t prevent him from stopping it, making 19 saves and going unbeaten in the shootout to secure the win.
Despite the high-pressure circumstances behind the win, there is a chance that the outdoor game might be Oettinger’s only action of the tournament.
The U.S. has been rolling with Boston College netminder and Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Joseph Woll as their starter this tournament, and the early signs suggest that he’s going to start today against Russia as the elimination round begins.
Also worth noting that Jake Oettinger and Jeremy Swayman are the 2 goalies working out on ice this morning. A sign Joe Woll might get start vs RUS— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) January 1, 2018
A lot can still happen in this tournament, but even if Oettinger doesn’t see the ice again, getting to win a game in such an epic and surreal situation as that snowy outdoor contest will likely be an experience that the young goalie will always remember.
Let’s now take a look at the other Stars prospects in action and how their teams are faring.
Miro Heiskanen - Finland
Something that’s often said about the World Juniors is that it’s a 19-year-old’s tournament, and 18-year-old Miro Heiskanen has been learning that the hard way so far this year.
Heiskanen has, overall, played well for Finland, but it hasn’t been an easy process. The Finnish team hasn’t looked particularly good this tournament, often appearing out of sorts and chasing the play, and Heiskanen has had to do a lot of heavy lifting at tough times. He’s not getting a lot of help from his forwards and, making matters worse, he’s not getting a lot of bounces, as he’s been on the ice for a few goals against that came from broken plays.
Nevertheless, he leads his team in ice time, which is a pretty impressive feat considering there are five 1st NHL rounders on that blueline. He’s picked up two assists in four games played, although both of those points came against lowly Denmark.
The Finns can still turn things around and challenge for a medal, starting with their elimination match against the Czech Republic this morning. If they do, Heiskanen will likely be a big part of that process.
Riley Tufte - United States
Another player that will likely have fond memories of that crazy outdoor game against Canada, Tufte has picked up two assists in the tournament, the most recent of which came on the opening goal in a 5-4 win over Finland on Sunday.
Tufte started the tournament on the U.S.’s second line, but was eventually bumped down to the squad’s fourth line. However, with injuries to a few forwards on the team Tufte’s ice time could go up as the medal rounds draw closer.
Oettinger, Tufte and the rest of Team USA face Russia today at 5 pm.
Colton Point - Canada
Point hasn’t seen the ice since I wrote about him a few days ago.
Carter Hart is still the unquestioned number one goalie for Canada, and that’s likely to stay the case for the remainder of the tournament. It’s possible that Point could see some more action, but at this point it seems unlikely.
Fredrik Karlstrom - Sweden
The Swedes are strong favourites to medal this year, going unbeaten through round robin play, but unfortunately for Stars fans, Fredrik Karlstrom hasn’t been a big part of that success.
If anything, he’s made their success a little bit tougher, getting whistled for three minor penalties in four games. He has two assists so far, but both came during a 6-1 rout over Belarus on Boxing Day, and only four shots on goal.
Karlstrom has been playing between 11 and 14 minutes per game.
Ondrej Vala - Czech Republic
The Czech Republic has been a wildly inconsistent team this World Juniors: they upset Russia, got snuffed out by Sweden, barely squeaked by Belarus and then exploded for six goals against Switzerland.
Defenseman Ondrej Vala, on the other hand, has been consistent as can be from the back end, logging a good number of minutes and spending a ton of time on his team’s penalty kill.
He has no points to his name and hasn’t particularly stood out, but sometimes that’s a good thing as a defenseman; he hasn’t hurt his team with any egregious defensive gaffes.
The Czechs are a longshot to take home a medal, but given how unpredictable they’ve been so far, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they could stick around to the end.