World Junior Championship: Devils’ Prospects All Over Final Rounds; USA Wins Gold

The Devils were well represented as the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship reached its final rounds at the Bell Centre in Montreal today.

Russia defeated Sweden in the bronze medal game earlier today, 2-1 in an overtime thriller. Defenseman Yegor Rykov assisted on the first Russian goal scored in the second period by Kirill Kaprizov. Over the entirety of the tournament, Rykov (who was drafted by New Jersey in the fifth round in the 2016 Entry Draft and currently plays for SKA St. Petersburg) played in seven games, scoring a goal and six assists for seven points. He was a plus-seven and had 10 shots on goal.

Denis Guryanov scored the bronze medal clincher for Russia in the overtime period, just 33 seconds in. Russia had just lost yesterday to Team USA in a shootout that would send the US to the final round gold medal game. It was the first time in tournament history that the USA had beaten Russia with a chance to advance to the medal rounds.

Later on in the evening, the United States would play Canada for the gold medal. The Devils had three prospects playing in this game: Joey Anderson of the US and Blake Speers and Michael McLeod of Canada. Another player with a Devils connection playing for Team USA was Casey Fitzgerald, who is the son of Devils Assistant General Manager Tom Fitzgerald.

Team USA came in to the game undefeated in the tournament (6-0) having defeated Canada already on New Year’s Eve in the preliminary round. That loss was Canada’s only blemish this year. The USA last beat Canada for the gold in this tournament in 2010 when Colonia, New Jersey native and current Washington Capital John Carlson scored the gold medal-clinching goal. Kyle Palmieri was also a member of that US team.

Anderson, Speers and McLeod are all playing in their first World Junior tournament; although, in an article on the Devils’ official website written by Julie Robenhymer, both Anderson and McLeod are young enough to participate in next year’s go around in Buffalo. The tournament pits the best players in the world under 20 against each other. Speers is currently playing in the OHL for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, McLeod for the Mississauga Steelheads (also of the OHL) and Anderson for the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

The gold medal game was exciting with Canada dominating the first period, the US the second and the third featuring some great end-to-end action. Canada jumped out to an early lead when Thomas Chabot scored 4:58 into the game. Jeremy Lauzon doubled their lead at the 9:02 mark.

But the US came back in the second, getting markers from Charlie McAvoy at the 3:04 mark and Kieffer Bellows at 9:30 on the power play to tie things up.

In the third, Canada scored twice in about a three minute span when Nicolas Roy at 11:52 on the power play and Mathieu Joseph (at 14:05 – with an assist to McLeod) put Canada up 4-2. But then it was Team USA’s turn to come roaring back. Bellows (son of former NHLer Brian) scored 39 seconds after the Joseph goal to make it 4-3. The Americans’ Colin White (no relation to the former Devil of the same name) tied things at four about two minutes after that.

After all of that, we were headed to overtime to settle things between the North American rivals. Goaltenders Tyler Parsons (USA) and Carter Hart (Canada) were each phenomenal in the extra session. And when 20 minutes extra were not enough, the game headed to a five round shootout. As bad as it was to see a game like this settled in a “skills competition,” those are the rules so off we went.

Team USA won the coin toss and shot first. After White (USA), Dylan Strome (Canada), Troy Keller (USA), Matt Barzal (Canada), Bellows (USA) and Tyson Jost (Canada) all missed or were stopped; Troy Terry beat Hart for what would be the only goal of the five round shootout. Canada’s Anthony Cirelli was stopped by Parsons and it was on the stick of the USA’s Jeremy Bracco. He did not score and Canada’s Nicolas Roy had to score to keep Canada’s hopes alive. He was stopped by Parsons and the US won the gold medal, deflating the sold out Bell Centre crowd.

In the end, Anderson had two assists, was a plus-one and had ten shots on goal in seven games in the US’s gold medal effort. They ended up undefeated in the tournament 7-0.

In seven games, Speers had a goal and two assists for three points, was a plus-one, nine shots on goal and two penalty minutes. McLeod had two goals and an assist for three points as well and was a minus-one with four shots on goal all in seven games played.

All in all, it was a great tournament for the participating teams. Congratulations to the USA and Canada for putting on a great show in the gold medal game and congratulations to Team USA for coming away with a gold medal in this prestigious tournament.