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World Juniors

Auston Matthews all smiles after U.S. victory at WJC

Maple Leafs rookie wins bet with coach Mike Babcock when United States tops Canada for gold medal

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews was trying to hide his smile around his teammates Friday morning. He eventually just gave up.

Matthews was still beaming from the night before, when he watched many of his peers on the U.S. National Junior Team win the gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship in a 5-4 shootout win against Canada.

"I'm really good friends with a lot of guys on that team, so I'm very happy for them," Matthews said.

Matthews said he watched the game with a lot of his Toronto teammates in the team hotel. The only Americans with him were defensemen Connor Carrick and Jake Gardiner.

"This team is pretty heavily populated with Canadian guys, so me, Carrick and Gardiner were the lone wolves down there," he said. "It was exciting. A back-and-forth game, and obviously I liked how it ended up.

"You go down by two goals two times in a row there and battle back; then the overtime, the shootout, just craziness. It was fun to watch, for sure."

Matthews, who earned a bronze medal playing for the United States in the World Juniors last year, knows he would have likely been in Montreal playing for gold if he wasn't good enough to play for the Maple Leafs this season. He admitted part of him wished he was there anyway.

"I mean, yeah, for sure," he said. "You watch them lift the gold medal and the trophy and obviously it would be nice. It's always fun representing your country, but obviously that didn't happen this year. It's fun to watch them."

It's even sweeter for Matthews because the U.S. victory means he won a side bet with Toronto coach Mike Babcock. A bottle of wine was on the line. Matthews said he's letting Babcock choose the bottle.

"But I trust him," said Matthews, who's 19, the legal drinking age in Ontario. "It's going to feel really nice to get that one from him."

Babcock certainly didn't forget about it.

"It cost me a bottle of wine," he said when asked to give his thoughts on the gold-medal game.

Babcock added that he didn't like the concept of a game of that magnitude ending in a shootout, but he understood it and compared it to soccer, a sport that often has important games decided by penalty kicks.

"Obviously the display the final four countries put on was elite hockey for that level," said Babcock, who coached Canada to the gold medal at the 1997 tournament. "Disappointing for anybody to lose. I'm a Canadian so I'm proud of what they did. I know the guys who are Americans are proud of what they did. [William Nylander], who is a Swede, thinks they did a real good job and they get nothing [for finishing fourth]. It's a tough tournament to get nothing, but I thought all in all a real good tournament, real good hockey and there's going to be lots of kids coming to the National Hockey League."

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