It wasn’t quite the Olympics, or World Juniors for that matter.
But Saturday night’s contest at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth between the United States and Canada was pretty close — a thrilling tour-de-force in front of more than 2,750 fans to close out the weeklong 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase.
Fans, as well as a bevy of National Hockey League scouts and front office personnel, were on hand to catch the fast and physical tourney finale. Team USA prevailed 7-5, sparked by four power play goals.
Leading the charge were U.S. National Team Development Program alums Adam Fox (goal, four assists), Joey Anderson (three goals, assist) and Brady Tkachuk (two assists).
“Sometimes it’s tough in the middle of summer and perform,” said Anderson, who will play hockey at University of Minnesota-Duluth between now and December, when the U.S. World Juniors squad reconvenes in advance of the 2018 World Juniors in Buffalo, N.Y. “But we had guys going out there and everyone was giving their all, that’s all you can ask for.
“Tonight was probably our most complete game of the whole week. All four lines were moving, a couple penalties we probably didn’t like. But we did our best to kill them and make sure they didn’t cost us too much.”
Work to do
U.S. head coach Bob Motzko said it was a good, competitive week for his group.
“Last year there were a lot of pieces we thought were concrete,” said Motzko, whose 2017 World Junior team defeated Canada in the gold medal game. “Right now there are a lot of pieces, there’s so many people that are still in the mix. …We got a lot of work to do through December.”
Among players who did not face Canada, but who could find themselves on the final World Juniors roster, are goalie Dylan St. Cyr (Northville) and forward Logan Cockerill (Brighton).
Forward Ivan Lodnia (Novi) played earlier in the tournament while forward Will Lockwood (Bloomfield Hills) missed the showcase due to injury.
Motzko praised Anderson and Fox for their work on the power play and said Tkachuk “plays at such a hard level every single shift. … He’s going to be an outstanding player. You got to learn to pick and choose your spots a little bit, right now it’s just full speed every second he’s out there.”
Another NTDP alum who made his mark Saturday was forward Josh Norris (Oxford).
“I think it’s a huge honor to be at this camp and wear these colors, I obviously got a chance to do it the last two years,” Norris said. “So to get invited back to this was a huge honor.
“… Obviously there’s a lot of talent here. To just kind of see where you fit in, I think I took some good steps this week.”
Norris added that playing such an intense game in summertime was “a little different.”
“I really haven’t played in a game like that before in August,” Norris said. “But it’s always a huge rivalry when you play those guys, you know you want to beat them. For us to do that tonight was a huge confidence booster.”
Off the hop
Anderson got the night off to a rousing start for Team USA when he notched a power play goal at 5:33. He tipped in Patrick Harper’s shot over the stick side of Team Canada starting goalie Carter Hart.
But Canada bounced back to go up 2-1 on markers by Jordan Kyrou (on the power play) and Givani Smith, a Detroit Red Wings prospect who many area fans wanted to see.
Smith found the mark at 16:39 when his harmless shot from above the circles hit a body and changed direction in front of U.S. netminder Joseph Woll (16 saves).
“I’ll take it,” joked Smith, a power forward who likely will play a second season for the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. “But I love to score pretty goals.”
Smith added that he was overall pleased with his performance Saturday and throughout the tournament.
“I was happy with my physical play,” Smith said. “They want me out here being a physical presence, finish my checks, do what I do, play good down low and move the puck.”
Less than a minute after Smith’s goal, Fox tied the game on a play started by dynamic forwards Casey Mittelstadt and Kailer Yamamoto.
Taking the lead
Team USA went up 4-2 when Anderson and Yamamoto found the back of Canada’s net in the first nine minutes of the middle frame.
Pierre-Luc Dubois then cut the deficit to 4-3 at 12:45, finishing off a beautiful tic-tac-toe sequence of passes on the power play.
“They had great looks,” said Motzko, about Canada’s power play. “We blocked a lot of shots before they got to our goalie, so we did a few good things on it (PK). But that’s what dictated the score was all the power play goals.”
Patrick Harper and Ryan Poehling padded the U.S. margin to 6-3 early in the third period, against Dylan Wells (who replaced Hart midway through the second).
But Canada got to within 6-5 when Sam Steel and Jonah Gadjovich scored less than two minutes apart.
There were a few anxious moments for the home fans, until Anderson scored into an empty net with 47 seconds to go, to provide the insurance that Team USA needed. Defenseman Dylan Samberg recorded his second assist of the night on the play.
About the quality of play demonstrated during the Summer Showcase, Motzko said there was a lot to like. But he emphasized that it’s just the start of a long, challenging process.
“It’s so hard for these guys to come together in the summer and try to crank it up to game shape, game speed, because none of the four teams were there,” he said. “They’re going to be so much better when (they’re) in shape.
“But this gives us a blueprint, it gives us the start of a foundation.”