Sean Kuraly and Connor Murphy talked before this year's World Junior tournament about being representatives for the state of Ohio, and ambassadors for the sport of hockey in central Ohio.
Both players made their World Junior debut today in Team USA's 8-0 win over Germany, but beneath the surface of an impressive all-around performance, it was about more than just an opening victory.
Ohio was center stage this morning and its natives were in the spotlight, playing a leading role for the United States. Kuraly was at center ice for the opening faceoff (which he won cleanly) and also scored the first goal of the tournament -- a gorgeous backhand through the five-hole of German goalie Marvin Cupper.
Connor Murphy, who was reportedly injured in a pre-tournament game and had to have his medical situation cleared before the U.S. could finalize its roster, played with American captain Jake McCabe in a shutdown-type role and looked solid. No doubt there were some nerves for the two Columbus products, but they each played well and played a lot as the game progressed.
Let's take a brief look at the lineup Team USA iced today before proceeding:
Johnny Gaudreau - JT Miller - Rocco Grimaldi
Alex Galchenyuk - Sean Kuraly - Riley Barber
Blake Pietila - Cole Bardreau - Ryan Hartman
Mario Lucia - Vince Trocheck - Tyler Biggs
Mike Reilly - Seth Jones
Shayne Gostisbehere - Jacob Trouba
Jake McCabe - Connor Murphy
Of that group, there are six players with ties to the state of Ohio. Barber is a freshman at Miami and leads the NCAA in rookie scoring with 22 points on the season, and Miller is a native of East Palestine, Ohio, and plays in the New York Rangers system with the Connecticut Whale (AHL).
Biggs is from the Cincinnati suburb of Loveland and was a first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played one season at Miami before moving on to the Ontario Hockey League, where coincidentally, he plays on Boone Jenner's right wing with the Oshawa Generals.
Kuraly and Murphy both grew up in Dublin and played for Ed Gingher and the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets junior program, which both players credited for helping develop their pro-style work habits on and off the ice. Reilly, a fourth-round pick of the Blue Jackets and freshman at the University of Minnesota, made the team with a solid training camp and played on a pairing this morning with Seth Jones from Plano, Texas.
Barber, Kuraly and Galchenyuk were the most dangerous players on the ice today in Team USA's win, and the two RedHawks freshmen combined for five points (Barber had a goal and two assists). Miller scored a goal in the third period that gave the U.S. a 7-0 lead and Biggs had at least two quality chances off the rush, but couldn't crack the scoresheet.
Kuraly also led all players with a 71.4 percent success rate in the faceoff circle.