Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

From the Dub: Never Say Never

As the defending gold medalists playing on home ice, Team USA is the obvious favorite to win the World Junior Championship again this year. At first, it looked like a sure thing, until Slovakia clipped their wings in what theoretically should have been an easy win for the United States. But that's one of the most important rules of junior hockey, or hockey in general for that matter: never underestimate the opponent and never assume you already know what the outcome of a game will be. Especially when epic comebacks are Team USA's signature move. 

Wait, what? Kieffer Bellows declared on the opening day of the tournament that to defend their title, Team USA would have to "come out hot." And they did at first, but Thursday's game was the exact opposite. They came out more like lukewarm and it showed in the final 3-2 Slovakia win. There were bright notes; Brady Tkachuk -- who is easily going to emerge as one of the superstars of this tournament -- scored Team USA's first goal. Buffalo Sabres first round pick Casey Mittelstadt continued his upward trajectory with goal number two. Kieffer Bellows got shuffled around a bit during the game and didn't end up contributing any goals or assists, which might help explain the loss. When he contributes, good things usually happen. But it all set the perfect stage for what has easily been THE game of the tournament so far: the outdoor game between temporary underdog Team USA and Team Canada. 

Humble beginnings: The outdoor game on Friday was a preview of what may very well turn out to be a gold medal game rematch between Team USA and Team Canada. A little snow in an outdoor game is expected and indeed, wanted. When it reaches the point where ice crew members are removing wheelbarrows full of it, it almost becomes like a third team in the game. But this is hockey and the show must go on. Team USA entered the game one day after the Slovakia loss, looking for an epic comeback. But that would have to wait until the third period, after Team Canada took an early two-goal lead in the first period: 

Wait for it...The element of surprise is Kieffer Bellows' secret weapon, but behind the seemingly spur-of-the-moment moves is a thoughtful player who knows exactly what he's doing. Hence, he waited just a moment to wind up and pick his spot before firing home Team USA's first goal. Canada wasted no time (72 seconds to be exact) in responding with their third goal, retaking the two-goal lead. But it's what happened next that changed the game:

Did I mention I love shootouts? Canada stumbled in the third period, leaving the door open for Team USA to even the score. Then came overtime, which solved nothing. You know what that means; the dreaded shootout. If you don't like them, I get it and I respect it. But you have to admit, this one will go down as one of the more epic shootout wins in World Junior history. This is your friendly reminder that it's nearly impossible to get past Carter Hart, but that's where Kieffer's experience here in the Dub came in handy. Of course, he pulled out his signature move of scoring two goals in one game, the second of which turned out to be the game winner. If you'd given up on Team USA in the first period, you would have missed the best part of the game. 

All Portland, all the time: Finland played Denmark on Thursday. Or as we'd say here in Portland, Henri Jokiharju played Joachim Blichfeld. Henri and Tri-City Americans defenseman Juuso Valimaki scored in Team Finland's win. But you have to feel for Team Denmark in this tournament; they cannot catch a break. They only lost 4-1 to Finland on Thursday. I say "only" because on Saturday, they experienced another ridiculous shutout loss, this time 8-0 to Canada. Team Denmark might seem like a lost cause, but they have one last chance, if they can pull off a must-win game with Slovakia today at 6 p.m Eastern. If they don't, Denmark will play in the relegation round and Slovakia will move on to the best-of-three survival series. It has all the makings of an epic comeback for Team Denmark, if they can pull it off.

Work in progress: As I'm writing this, Team USA is leading Team Finland 3-1 in the second period. But here's the thing: Henri has more patience than most WHL players I've seen in my time. If he hasn't scored and there's still time to do so, he probably will. I'll update this post after all is said and done, but you can tune in live on the NHL Network or TSN.  

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com