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World Juniors

Knight ready to prove himself, play larger role for U.S. at 2020 WJC

Panthers goalie prospect motivated by 2019 experience to prosper in lead role for this year's tournament

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Spencer Knight, chosen by the Florida Panthers with the No. 13 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has waited an entire year for another opportunity to represent the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championship.

This time, he's expected to play a larger role for the U.S. after not playing in any of the seven games as the third goalie in the rotation during a second-place finish at the 2019 World Junior Championship in Vancouver.

The 2020 WJC begins Thursday and runs through Jan. 5 in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic. The U.S. plays its preliminary-round games in Group B, along with Canada, Czech Republic, Germany and Russia. The U.S. opens the tournament against Canada at Ostravar Arena on Thursday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN).

"I learned a lot in Vancouver," Knight said. "It was a huge stage with how much the tournament means to people. Just being in the locker room and knowing how much it takes to really get that far, getting all the way to the championship game, was great. Making sure you have all the little details in order are so important. Every practice, every game, just paying attention to the small things, and then it begins to build."

Knight has done his part to ensure the little things haven't kept him down this season as a freshman at Boston College in Hockey East.

"He's a student, very Type A, and knows his game better than anybody," Boston College goaltending coach Mike Ayers said. "But what I find amazing about him is his ability to maintain his feet as long as he does. That's pretty special because that's hard to teach. His efficiency around the crease is good. He's waiting for the shooter to shoot or make a decision, and his patience, drive and work ethic are top notch."

Knight said the experience he gained at the 2019 WJC was great and has motivated him in his first college season. He's 11-4-0 with a 1.73 goals-against average, .940 save percentage and four shutouts in 15 games.

Though Knight is expected to take on more of a leadership role as one of five returning players from the 2019 WJC, he'll receive plenty of competition in goal from Isaiah Saville (Vegas Golden Knights) of the University of Nebraska Omaha in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Dustin Wolf (Calgary Flames) of Everett in the Western Hockey League. 

All three goalies are part of the final 23-player tournament roster.

"I think you have to be respectful of each other but if we all compete to the best of our ability and make each other better, at the end of the day, whoever plays, that's how the team improves," Knight said. "We're going to have the best goalie in net and whether that's me, [Wolf], or Isaiah, we're going to support each other. If everyone is pushing for that net, that's a good thing and makes us all better."

Knight (6-foot-3, 192 pounds) has started every game for Boston College while proving an ability to overcome adversity. After allowing six goals on 26 shots in a 6-2 loss to Providence on Oct. 25, he allowed 10 goals in his next 10 games, going 9-1-0. 

"That game against Providence was probably the worst game he's played," Ayers said. "When I asked him what he wanted to do with the film, since we normally go through it, he said, 'You know what? Let's just put that one away.'

"I actually thought it was a great way for him to just turn the page, and from that point I think we found some things within his game that needed to get better, worked on that and he started to get more confident with those changes."

Knight begins each game with good energy, which he said was key to his turnaround.

"I think you need to make sure you have energy entering the game right away and from the puck drop," he said. "You want to be into it and be more on top of it, just really focus and dial it in. That's kind of what I've changed from the beginning of the year."

U.S. general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said he's been impressed with Knight's ability and the experience he brings to the 2020 WJC.

"He had a time there where he struggled but overcame his own adversity, got back on the horse again for Boston College," Vanbiesbrouck said. "People expect a lot out of him and he's a first-round pick of the Florida Panthers, so with that comes a different set of expectations.

"But I don't think that'll affect Spencer because one of his best assets is between his ears. He's a very sound thinker, has a good approach to the game. I can see that in him and believe he's ready for this."


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