USA Hockey Magazine

February 2018

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or other unforeseen circumstances. A con- tingency plan was created to bring the game indoors to the KeyBank Center, the site for most of the tournament games. Figuring out how to squeeze as many of the 44,000-plus fans inside a 19,000-seat arena was one chal- lenge, but it was a chance they were willing to take. Fortunately, the hockey gods once again smiled on the city of Buffalo and the ambi- tious organizing committee. Almost on cue, the snow returned shortly after the puck dropped, much to the delight of the 44,592 fans inside the stadium and those who tuned in on the NHL Network. But must-see-TV requires more than just pretty scenery. It needed the drama of an American come-from-behind, 4-3, shootout victory to turn the game into an instant classic. "There are certain games that you don't have to say a word to your players. This is one of them," Motzko said of facing the Canadians. "You walk in the locker room and there's a little different feel. It's amped up. That's what rivalries are all about. There's just a little juice in the air. You can feel it." A f t e r f a l l i n g f l a t t o a n o p p o r t u n i s t i c Slovakian team the night before, juice was in short supply as the U.S. team faced a quick turnaround. A loss would push the hosts farther down the Group A bracket and leave the defend- ing champs with the prospect of a tougher opponent in the do-or-die crossover game. A victory could be the shot in the arm they'd need in their quest to do something no other American team had done: win a World Junior title on home ice. Two days earlier, Motzko walked down the tunnel and into the frozen expanse at New Era Stadium for a midday practice. As he reached the lip of the rink, he slowly slipped off his skate guards and took a solitary lap around the pristine sheet of ice. It was one of those "wow" moments that television doesn't do justice while watching other outdoor games from the comfort of his St. Cloud, Minn., living room. " You step out there in an NFL stadium with a hockey rink sitting there, it is pretty cool," he said. By the time Motzko marched his troops out of the tunnel to the beat of a drumline and the flash of fireworks, those "wow" moments were multiplied on game day. "There were a whole lot of them today," he said. "It was snowing, the crowd was great. It was just an unbelievable setting right with the snow and how it played out. "I was a skeptic at first, but I love it now." Taking a page from last year's gold-medal script, the one in which the U.S. twice ral- lied for a pair of two-goal deficits to win in a shootout to claim its fourth gold medal, this year's affair did not lack for drama. Despite finding themselves in another two- goal hole heading into the second intermis- sion, there was a sense of calm and confidence inside the U.S. locker room. " We were all positive, trying to pump each other up. We knew it was going to be an awesome story at the end of it," said Brady Tkachuk, who joined his father, Keith, and b r ot h e r, M a tt h e w, a s w i n n e r s o f Wo r l d Juniors bronze. " When we g ot out there everyone was talking on the bench and was so excited. I really think that transferred over and we played a lot better with all that excitement." Motzko's message to his troops was based on simple math and a simple game plan. "If we get one, we'll get two," he said. And those two goals came quickly thanks in large part to Mittlestadt, who set up Scott Perunovich and Tkachuk to set the stage for another shootout. That's when Kieffer Bellows and Tkachuk did their best impersonations of Troy Terry, the hero of last year's tournament, and Jake Oettinger turned aside all four Canadian shots he faced. "It wasn't your usual hockey game, but it was an unbelievable atmosphere and one of coolest games I've ever played in," said the Boston University goalie, who turned aside 20 shots through regulation and overtime. "I looked around a couple of times and it kind of reminded me of the Winter Classic with Pittsburgh and Buffalo with the snow coming down. It all made for a storybook game that was pretty unbelievable." And while the U.S. title defense fell short early in the new year with a semifinal loss to Sweden, this year's squad managed to rally to earn a bronze medal with a gut-check victory over the Czech Republic. The hardware and the memories of its record-setting outdoor clash will last a life- time for both the teenaged players and those who braved the elements to watch a game for the ages. With a long NHL career ahead of him, even Mittlestadt admitted that this would be a tough day to top. "I'll be hanging with some of these guys years down the road and we'll be talking about this one for sure." P THE FACTOR WOW Must-see-TV requires more than just pretty scenery. It needed the drama of an American come-from-behind, 4-3, shootout victory to turn it into an instant classic. The record crowd that braved the cold and snow to watch the U.S. take on Canada at New Era Field was treated to an instant classic. Photos by Getty Images; Images on Ice; Harry Thompson 18 // 2018 OLYMPIC PREVIEW USAHOCKEYMAGAZINE.COM

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