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World Juniors

Erik Foley making strong case for spot on U.S. roster

Forward has two goals, assist in two games; Canada struggles again

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- United States coach Bob Motzko said part of the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp is about looking for players who through their play are demanding to be on the roster for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"As Ben Smith (USA Hockey player personnel staff member) would say, they put their hand up," Motzko said Friday. "They said, 'I'm here and I want to be on this team.'"

Forward Erik Foley, a third-round pick (No. 78) of the Winnipeg Jets in the 2015 NHL Draft, has put his hand up high.

Foley scored for the U.S. in its 2-1 loss to Finland at USA Hockey Arena on Friday. In the past two games, Foley has two goals and an assist.

"I just try to work hard as much as I can when I get out there," Foley said. "If it's two shifts a period or five or six, I get out there and I'm going to work hard."

Motzko rewarded Foley for his strong play Friday by keeping him on the ice for almost all of the final 90 seconds of the third period with goaltender Jake Oettinger (2017 draft eligible) pulled for an extra attacker.

"He's just a big, strong athlete and he can stay out there and not lose a lot of energy," Motzko said. "And we had the puck the whole time, or for a lot of it, and there were no whistles. He was tall to the task. He deserved to be out there. He's been playing that well, and we wanted to give those guys a chance to get out there."

Foley (6-foot, 185-pound) used his size and strength to muscle his way to the front of the net and bang in a loose puck at 18:48 of the second period against Finland.  

"Chad Krys (Chicago Blackhawks) had a real nice shot from the point," he said. "It bounced out, and Christian Fischer (Arizona Coyotes) did a lot of the work out front battling, and it popped out to me. I spun to the backhand and I slid it under (goalie Veini Vehvilainen's) arms."

Motzko said he's been as impressed by Foley's mental strength as his physical strength. In the 4-3 win against Sweden on Wednesday, Foley played two shifts in the second period but on one of them he scored a goal to cut Sweden's lead to 3-2. He then had an assist on Logan Brown's game-winning goal in the third.

"He's living up to the expectations of his background," Motzko said. "He's doing it. He's been doing it the whole camp. An impressive performance."

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Camp grind gets to U.S. -- Motzko said he could sense at practice Friday morning that it wasn't going to be his team's day.

"This was our day of the week where we were just not on top of it this morning," he said. "It's a grind when you're here for 10 days. Just felt like we were at the dentist all day. … We had some odd shifts here and there that were good. But we needed a puck to go in."

That never happened because of Vehvilainen (2017 draft eligible), who made 30 saves.

It was a stark improvement from Vehvilainen's previous game against the U.S., when he allowed eight goals on 46 shots in an 8-1 loss to USA White on Monday.

"First game against the U.S. here, not good," Vehvilainen said. "[Today] was a very good game for us, like the game against Canada (a 2-1 overtime win Wednesday). Now we're on a good route."

Eeli Tolvanen, a top prospect for the 2017 NHL Draft, continued to excel. He scored a goal for the third straight game, shooting from the left side off the rush past Oettinger at 11:24 of the first period. Then he made a nice play to set up Sami Tavernier (2017 draft eligible) for a goal at 15:31 of the second.

"He's a good scorer, but he's playing both ways well," Finland coach Jukka Rautokorpi said. "He understands hockey well and he has that effort and he has that sense and a good future I think."

Ducharme not worried -- Canada lost 5-1 to Sweden at USA Hockey Arena on Friday and is 0-2 in its two games here after losing in overtime to Finland on Wednesday.

But Canada coach Dominique Ducharme used the calendar to show his level of concern.

"It's Aug. [5]. Not really," he said when asked if he was worried. "We're building and just putting in the foundation for Christmas. … We've been together only five days."

The loss to Sweden mirrored its game against Finland, with another slow start followed by better play during the final 40 minutes but a failure to capitalize on scoring chances.

Goaltender Carter Hart (Philadelphia Flyers) allowed four goals on 14 shots in the first period but settled down and made 16 saves in a period and a half. He was voted the best goaltender in the Canadian Hockey League last season and could be the front-runner to start for Canada at the 2017 WJC.

"He had a great season last year," Ducharme said. "I don't think we can judge on half a game in August. Was probably his first game in a while. It's going to take a little bit of time."

Canada scored when Mathieu Joseph (Tampa Bay Lightning) fought to the front of the net and redirected a shot by Callan Foote (2017 draft eligible) from the blue line past Sweden goalie Felix Sandstrom (Flyers) at 4:30 of the first period.

"It was a weird play kind of," Joseph said. "We tried to hold it in the [offensive] zone and was a bit of hesitation on the other team and we find a little space. I was in front of the net, and it hit me and went in."

Those kind of gritty goals are what Canada will need at the WJC, but it also will need some skill play from the top-level players, among them first-line forwards Dylan Strome (Arizona Coyotes) and Mitchell Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs). They combined for five shots on goal, and Strome took a slashing penalty late in the second period.

"For sure they're key guys for us," Ducharme said. "Again, same thing, it's the first game in two, three months for them. Execution has a lot to do with the skill guys. It's a matter of time for guys like that."

Special day for Sideroff -- Canada forward Deven Sideroff, a 2015 third-round draft pick (No. 84) of the Anaheim Ducks, signed a three-year, entry-level contract this week.

"Coming into this camp, I was really excited to come here and be honored and wear the colors of Canada again," Sideroff said Friday. "Hearing I got a contract and signing that the other day, it's a really good feeling and a confidence boost for me."

Sideroff, 19, had 19 goals and 59 points with Kamloops of the Western Hockey League last season and also got into one game with San Diego, the Ducks' American Hockey League affiliate.

"The older guys there taught me a lot on the ice and off the ice," Sideroff said. "Everyone mentally thinks the game really well and everybody thinks very fast. Being a more mature hockey player, that's what I learned from there."

The Ducks have liked Sideroff's development and believe there's more to come.

"If we didn't think he was part of the future certainly the signing today wouldn't have happened," said Ducks director of player personnel Rick Paterson. "He's got a strong work ethic. We feel he's a good skater. … He's got some development to do, get stronger. We feel like he's a smart player who should continue to develop."

Sweden splits Davidsson brothers, likes results -- Sweden 2017 draft eligible forwards Jonathan Davidsson and Marcus Davidsson have done well as linemates, but coach Tomas Monten wanted to see how they'd do split apart.

Monten liked the answer; each brother had a goal and an assist in Sweden's 5-1 win against Canada.

"I think both of them played their best games so far," Monten said.

Jonathan Davidsson played right wing on the top line with Jonathan Dahlen (Ottawa Senators) and center Joel Eriksson Ek (Minnesota Wild). He assisted on Dahlen's goal at 5:22 of the first period that gave Sweden a 2-1 lead and scored an empty-net goal in third.

Marcus Davidsson, a 6-foot, 185-pound forward who is on NHL Central Scouting's Futures List, was shifted from center to left wing on the fourth line. His shot from the outside was tipped by Linus Olund (2017 draft eligible) at 1:58 of the first period to open the scoring, and then he redirected a point shot by Gabriel Carlsson (Columbus Blue Jackets) at 13:15 of the first to give Sweden a 4-1 lead.

"Marcus got called to play on the wing today because I need to test him on the wing, he always plays center," Monten said. "The line with Marcus and Linus Olund and Oskar Steen (Boston Bruins) was a great fourth line for us. They really moved the puck from our [defensive] zone and got a lot of faceoffs in the offensive end for the first line to get on the ice. They were really good."

Eriksson Ek, who was captain for the game, had a power-play goal and an assist. The captaincy was a reward for how he's carried himself on and off the ice.

"He doesn't speak much in the locker room, he doesn't say that much, but every time we're on the ice, every time we're in the gym, every time we step on the ice, he puts his best game on and he shows the rest of the players where to follow," Monten said. "He can play offensive game, he can play the defensive game, he can play on the wing, he can play center. We just hope we can keep him."

The leadership role is something Eriksson Ek embraces because of the experience he gained playing at the 2016 WJC.

"I need to show the new guys how this works," he said. "I want to be a leader and help the team be as good as possible."

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