CanucksArmy World Junior Recap: Slovakia 3 – 2 USA

The final game from today’s slate wasn’t supposed to be even remotely competitive. At least not in my estimation.

You had the tournament hosting, Gold defending Americans with their bevy of first-rounders and future stars against a dwindling hockey nation barely clinging to relevancy on the international stage in the Slovakians.

This had blowout written all over it.

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Then the first period ended at a tie even though the Americans were in control of the game. Then Filip Krivosic put Slovakia on the board early in the second, and the mind began to wander. Could they pull this off?

The Americans evened the score though just a handful of minutes later, as 2018 NHL Entry Draft eligible forward Brady Tkachuk (brother of Matthew, son of Keith) found the back of the net. Everything seemed normal again.

It felt like the Stars & Stripes were hitting their stride, and their dominance of the Slovaks at the beginning of the third suggested it was only a matter of time before the dam broke. The Slovak goaltender Roman Durny, who was strong right from puck drop, held the fort though. And when Krivosic went against the grain to score the go-ahead goal for Slovakia, everyone started to take the notion of an upset a little more seriously.

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What happened afterwards is going to be the stuff of Slovak hockey lore. A bit of confusion and a collision at the blue line helped pave the way for Buffalo Sabres first-round pick Casey Mittlestadt to score the game of the tournament and even the score at two. The Slovak bench was in fits, as they felt the referee had missed a blatant penalty.

They had a built-in excuse to pack it in and call it a day. They just weren’t going to get their upset, no matter how they tried, and so on. The letdown was too much!

But Samuel Bucek put the team on his back and scored a goal almost as good as Mittlestadt’s to get the Slovaks back on the board and in firm control of this hockey game. That was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Durny held the fort, finishing the night with 43 saves on 45 shots, and the Slovaks swarmed him for a celebration.

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Another quiet game for Lockwood, who didn’t get a tonne of ice-time and didn’t do much with the scant few shifts with which he had to work. It’d be nice to see Lockwood at least register a scoring chance at some point; I think most Canucks fans would settle for a shot, even. The good news is, Lockwood wasn’t actively bad or even on the ice for a goal against. And he sure can skate!

Quinton Hughes (2018 NHL Entry Draft)

This tournament can be a coming-out party for a lot of players that might not register on the casual fan’s radar otherwise. With 2018 draft eligible University of Michigan defenceman Quinton Hughes, this year’s World Juniors is shaping up that way.

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Hughes hasn’t hit the highlight reel yet, but you have to think he will at some point the way he effortlessly carries the puck and executes clean breakouts through the neutral. He’s such a smooth skater. And you get the sense that the American coaching staff knows this given how much Hughes has played in the first two games.

You don’t want to get too carried away with one tournament’s worth of play, but I’ve been following Hughes for two years now, and he’s always full value. Keep an eye on him throughout the tournament. Based on where the Canucks season is heading, it’s not unrealistic to expect the two to meet at some point in the not-so-distant future.

Brady Tkachuk (2018 NHL Entry Draft)

Brady Tkachuk plays a similar game to his brother who plays a similar-ish game to their father, Keith. That is to say, Tkachuk is violent and disruptive as all hell. But he also has plenty of skill to go along with that vaunted truculence, and that was on full display on the goal he scored in the second period.

It’s a testament to Tkachuk’s quality that he’s playing as high in the American lineup as often as he is (kind of like Hughes, in that sense) and in high-leverage situations like the dying minutes of a one-goal game.

Tkachuk is more finisher than playmaker and has the size and speed to take the puck to the net. When a play doesn’t work out, he’s willing to camp out in front and create something anew. He’s as old as you can be for his draft class, which is valuable context when projecting him, but he’s still a hell of a prospect.

Casey Mittlestadt (2017 Buffalo 1st)

As last season progressed, CanucksArmy became less and less enamoured with Casey Mittlestadt as a prospect. His even strength scoring in the USHL and the fact that he spent so much of last season in high school were concerning, certainly. Even looking at his good-but-not-great production in the NCAA this season, it doesn’t look like we were wrong to be skeptics.

But we always knew he had high-end skill. And even when he’s not scoring, it’s evident that the talent is there. The goal he scored in the Americans first game was unreal — amazing touch, timing and hand-eye coordination. He stepped that up with his goal in the third period of this game. Like I said, that’s the goal of the tournament.

I’ll be curious to follow Mittlestadt’s career. He’s always great in international tournaments, but otherwise, it’s been a lot of talent with little to show. Buffalo might have a player.