Texas and hockey have been a good mix for a few decades now, so it shouldn't be a surprise that holding the IIHF Men's Under 18 World Championship in Frisco and Plano has been a success so far.
The 10-team tournament will move from the group stage to the playoff round on Monday, May 3 with key games at both Comerica Center and Children's Health StarCenter in Plano. It will do so with a ton of momentum coming off a 5-4 victory for Team USA over Finland on Saturday night.
Tickets are available for both quarterfinal games
Throughout the game and, especially after Sasha Pastujov scored the overtime game-winner, Comerica Center was ringing with chants of "USA, USA!" The boisterous crowd was already worked into a frenzy moments earlier with Team USA's Ty Gallagher tied the game with just three seconds remaning in regulation.
"There was definitely a lot of buzz in the building," said Team USA forward Dylan Duke, who scored the first goal of the game. "It was an electric atmosphere."
That's exactly what the Stars were hoping for when they volunteered to move the event from Michigan due to concerns about the COVID pandemic. The International Ice Hockey Federation agreed, and the tournament has been going very smoothly through the first week.
Now, as things get serious and they start the run toward Thursday's gold medal game, the excitement is expected to be even higher.
"It's been really good," said Lucas Reid, the Stars executive who helped bring the tournament to Texas and has been a big part in organizing activities. "Every time we open up more tickets, they get scooped up, so that's been a really good sign for us."
Official attendance for Team USA games has been 1,505 for a capacity of 3,500 because of COVID spacing restrictions. Because Texas is allowing arenas to fill up more, there is a good chance attendance for the next three game days will be bigger.
Canada is playing the Czech Republic at 4 p.m. Monday at Comerica Center, while Team USA will play Sweden at 8 p.m. Both games are expected to be barnburners.
"I love it," said Stars President and CEO Brad Alberts. "We had an idea that it would work out well, but it's really been such a success. The crowds have been fantastic. Honestly, if we could sell to full capacity, we could do it easily because there has been that much interest."
Team USA will clearly be the biggest draw for obvious reasons. In addition to being the host country, the Americans have a strong history of good performances in this tournament.
They will play Sweden on Monday, which finished in second place in Group A with nine points. In the other quarterfinal games, Canada will play the Czech Republic, Russia will play Belarus and Finland will play Switzerland.
Winners advance to the semifinals on Wednesday.
Team USA coach Dan Muse said he likes the way his team is improving. Finland has been a perennial power and has outscored opponents by 11 goals. This was Finland's first loss in the round robin.
"I like the way we came out, and I like the way we played the entire game," Muse said after Saturday's win. "I thought you could see from the opening shift that the guys were ready. There was a little more pop in everyone's step. There was a little more detail in everybody's game. There was a lot to like about that and a lot to build off moving forward."
Sweden is the defending champion of the Under 18 World Championship, so that's a tough draw in the quarterfinals. The Swedes won three of their four round robin games, but lost 12-1 to Canada, so they have been motivated ever since.
"I expect it to be a battle, for sure," said Team USA's Pastujov. "They're the reigning champs, so it'll be a good game. But I think it's about us. We're going to focus on our process and take it one period at a time, one game at a time, and play the right way. I like our odds."
As will the fans. This is only the third time the tournament has been held in the United States, and while USA Hockey has won 10 times, they've done it only once on home soil (2009 in Fargo).
"I believe this group understands to represent your country on any stage is a huge opportunity," Muse said before the tournament began. "I don't know that there is a greater honor than to represent your country in international play, so to be coming to an IIHF event like this in any year, but especially this year, I do believe everyone knows how important that is."
Team USA schedule & results
Full tournament schedule & results
2021 USA Schedule & Results
|Date ||Opponent/Round ||Time (CT)/Result ||Location |
|Sat., April 24 ||Sweden (Pre-Tournament) ||W, 5-1 ||Comerica Center (Frisco) |
|Mon., April 26 ||Russia (Preliminary) ||OTL, 6-7 ||Comerica Center (Frisco) |
|Tues., April 27 ||Germany (Preliminary) ||W, 5-3 ||Comerica Center (Frisco) |
|Thurs., April 29 ||Czech Republic (Preliminary) ||SOW, 2-1 ||Comerica Center (Frisco) |
|Sat., May 1 ||Finland (Preliminary) ||OTW, 5-4 ||Comerica Center (Frisco) |
|Mon., May 3 ||Sweden (Quarterfinals) ||8 p.m. ||Comerica Center (Frisco) |
|Wed., May 5 ||TBD Semifinals ||4 p.m. ||Comerica Center (Frisco) |
|Thurs., May 6 ||TBD Bronze Medal Game ||4 p.m. ||Comerica Center (Frisco) |
|Thurs., May 6 ||TBD Gold Medal Game ||8 p.m. ||Comerica Center (Frisco) |
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.