From now until the conclusion of the 2019 IIHF Men's Ice Hockey World Championship, Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei will be documenting his experience on and off the ice as he competes in the tournament for the first time alongside fellow Blueshirts Chris Kreider and Adam Fox. Follow along with his journey right here, and on Twitter (@NYRangers) and Instagram (@nyrangers).
We're four games into World Championships, and things are going well for Team USA here in Kosice.
We haven't been perfect. Yesterday's win over Great Britain was a little ugly, but we got the job done. After a loss to Slovakia in our first game of the tournament, we've gotten three W's and our offense has really been clicking. Right now, we're in second place in Group A with three games left to play in the preliminaries.
It's actually pretty tough to get the chemistry going with a group of 22, 23 guys who haven't played together much throughout the year. To get that feel for guys takes a little time, and in the last three games, we've been playing better - getting a better feel for each other as lines and D partners and just playing better hockey.
Part of the reason I think it's taken some time for us to click is because we have a lot of guys who are really skilled, who are playmakers. Blash, our coach, said we have nine guys who are first-line players on their NHL teams, so guys are kind of trying to find different roles, some as second-line and third-line players. We're still getting a feel for that, but the last three games have definitely been a step in the right direction.
I scored my first goal of the tournament on Monday against Finland. It was a big game that we ended up winning in overtime. Whenever you score, you're pumped, but to get one 50 seconds into the game was really nice - it got the team off to a good start, and makes you feel good about yourself for the rest of the game. After I scored, Johnny Gaudreau made it 2-0, but Finland ended up tying it before the end of the second. Dylan Larkin got us the win in OT, so that was huge.
There are so many good guys on our team, and every game, you get snippets of guys who can really make plays. Quinn Hughes' skating really sticks out to me. He's a defenseman who's unbelievable on his feet. Jack, too - he's been creating stuff and it's pretty impressive to watch him. Then there's Kreids, who's been great. He scored yesterday against Great Britain. He's really good in international play just because of how fast he is and how big he is. I know I wouldn't want to go back for the puck and try to break out with him forechecking me.
Playing against Finland, we obviously got a good look at Kaapo Kakko. He's a special player. He definitely has that "it" factor you're looking for in a high-end pick and he hangs onto pucks really well. He was a stud.
It was definitely a big honor to be named U.S. Player of the Game after that win over Finland. Anytime you're named Player of the Game on a team like this, with all of the talent we have, it's definitely a good feeling. Obviously, I think a bunch of guys could have gotten it, but the fact that they picked me - I was happy.
In our first game here, we only scored one goal, and in three games since, we've scored 16. There was no doubt that eventually the goals would come. We know we can score goals when we play the right way. I think we got in trouble the first game because we were kind of shooting from outside and not getting to the net. The last few games, we've done a better job of getting guys in front of the net and making it harder on the other team. We have a ton of skilled guys who can pass the puck around for two minutes if we want to, but that's not going to get you much, so when we get pucks toward the net and make it hard for the other team to defend, that's usually how you get your goals. Obviously, you're going to pay a price going there, but that's how you open up the zone a little bit.
We've obviously been playing a lot of hockey in the week or so that we've been in Kosice, and when we're not doing that, we're mostly playing NHL on Xbox at the hotel. The first few days we were here, the weather was really nice - probably about 70 and sunny - but the last couple of days, it's been 50s and rainy. Kreids and I have also been getting into this Formula 1 show on Netflix, so we've been crushing that for a few days.
Today, we're going golfing which should be fun. We have the day off, so we're excited to do that. Then, it's back to work - we have a big three-in-four coming up against Denmark, Germany and Canada, so that'll be a good challenge and one we're excited about. Hope you guys are watching!