The winter wonderland that was the first-ever outdoor game played in IIHF World Junior Championship history turned out to be a memorable one as Sabres prospect Casey Mittelstadt (2017, first round) produced a trio of primary assists to propel the United States to a 4-3 shootout victory over Canada on Friday.
Mittelstadt's three-helper performance, which earned him his team's Player of the Game honor, boosts him into the tournament lead with six points (3+3) through three group stage contests.
It's not often that a player can be a difference maker without recording a single shot on goal, but that's exactly how it went for Mittelstadt Friday as he put his playmaking skills on display in front of 44,592 fans at New Era Field.
After a disappointing loss to Slovakia less than 24 hours earlier, Mittelstadt skated with a sense of urgency from the onset as he rushed out of the U.S. zone with great speed on several occasions. It became apparent, however, that the Canadians were prepared to take away his space once he crossed the red line. Canada's team defense combined with a pair of power play goals gave the Americans' rival a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
Mittelstadt's ability to control the puck helped the Americans sustain offensive zone pressure early in the middle frame, but the snowfall picked up and with it came a slight challenge to the skating and creativity that makes him a threat any time he hops over the boards. Still, it was clear that the team's top centerman had his game in gear, leading to an impressive 9:14 of icetime in the second period alone.
The increased workload eventually paid off for Mittelstadt and his teammates.
With 3:33 left in the period and the Americans on a two-man advantage, Mittelstadt fed the puck to Kieffer Bellows (NYI), who buried a slap shot from high in the zone to cut Canada's lead to 2-1.
Canada would strike again 1:12 later to head to the second intermission with a 3-1 advantage, but the lead was not safe as Mittelstadt elevated his effort with a pair of helpers in a span of 34 seconds in the final regulation stanza.
First, Mittelstadt took a Scott Perunovich feed from high in the zone, and instead of going to the net with it, made a perfect pass right back on the tape of the streaking defenseman for the Americans' second lamplighter of the afternoon.
After a delay to clear the ice of snow, Mittelstadt kept it going by taking a puck off the cycle behind the Canadian net and quickly sliding a pass at the doorstep to 2018 draft prospect Brady Tkachuk for the equalizer with 13:17 left in regulation.
Mittelstadt missed on his shootout attempt following a scoreless overtime session, but Bellows and Tkachuk had already scored while the Canadians were unable to solve Jake Oettinger (DAL) in their four tries.
Team USA gets a day off Saturday before Mittelstadt will have an opportunity to increase his tournament scoring lead in Sunday's matchup versus Finland.
For more on Sabres players in the pipeline, be sure to follow Kris Baker on Twitter (@SabresProspects) and check out his website SabresProspects.com. He will be providing World Junior Championship updates here on Sabres.com throughout the tournament.