Stars fans, over the next month or so, I will be keeping a diary of my experiences at the 2012 IIHF Men’s World Championships. This is my first time playing for Team USA at any level, and believe it or not, it’s also my first trip overseas. During this time, I will be writing about hockey, travel, interesting experiences, and really anything that comes to mind. Hope everyone enjoys reading it!
Day 7 – Friday, May 4
I woke up at 7:30 a.m. in order to prepare for our first game of the tournament against France, and my excitement level couldn’t have been higher. My roommate, Cam (Atkinson of the Columbus Blue Jackets) and I headed down to the dining room for breakfast, which was also our pre-game meal. We wouldn’t be able to eat anything until after the game, so I loaded up on anything and everything I could get my hands on to make sure I was plenty full. You could tell everyone was thinking about the first game and ready to go, so it was a little more quiet and a lot more focused than other mornings.
Following breakfast (by the way, I don't get how there are potatoes at every meal, but no breakfast potatoes!), there was a team meeting to go over the game that started at 12:15pm. During the meeting, we watched video on France and some video from our exhibition game against Sweden, trying to finalize our plan of attack one last time. There was just enough time after the meeting to change into game attire and head down to the bus.
Getting on the bus, there was lots of excitement around us, a large group of people outside the hotel looking to get autographs, and a police escort to the arena. There was a great feeling around the arena, which was now covered in World Championships flags and banners, and with three games being played that afternoon, there were tons of people everywhere. I never really thought about what it takes to put on an event of this magnitude, but once we got into the locker room, it was all business.
Everyone did their pre-game routines and got focused, as it was to be a quick two hours before puck drop. The game started really well for us, we were pressuring France all over the ice. With momentum seemingly all in our favor, France countered with the first goal of the game, which was a sign they were here to play and we needed to really start capitalizing on our chances. Less than five minutes after their goal, we scored to tie it at one, and then it was all about our power play heading into the second period. We were able to get great zone time and put two goals in on the man advantage. France came back with another goal to make it 3-2, but the good guys scored right before the second period ended to give us great momentum heading into the third. We controlled the puck well and put three more goals on the board in the third, keeping them scoreless and sealing a 7-2 victory.
Playing in the first game of the day was nice, as we were able to get back to the hotel early in the afternoon. We gathered for a post-game meal, which was filled with lots of talk about how we played. Guys went over the good things and some stuff we would like to clean up for the game (Saturday) against arch-rival Canada. We relaxed the rest of the afternoon, and during dinner, we watched a little of the Finland game. It was definitely weird seeing Kari Lehtonen playing in a blue and white jersey, but he was outstanding in his first game, getting the win and shutout, 1-0 over Belarus. We then went to the hotel restaurant for dessert, where I had chocolate cake and ice cream (amazing, by the way, and I will be going back there again, for sure). Dessert hit the spot and was a great way to end the night.
Day 8 – Saturday, May 5
You know those days you look forward to a lot more than others? (Saturday) was that day for Team USA, as we got to face our border rivals from Canada. Yes, this game was important because every game is important in a quick tournament like this, but also because we were facing all guys that we play with and against in the NHL. USA-Canada is the game that is talked about in the locker rooms throughout the year, and major bragging rights and ammunition were at stake. It is always great to be able to say we beat them.
As far as the day went, we had a later start time for the game, which was helpful for both sides as the schedule was like a regular home NHL game. We had our normal breakfast at 9 a.m., fueling up and stretching out the bed legs to start the day. Afterwards everyone loaded the bus and left for the game arena, where due to two games in two games, we had an optional skate. I didn't play the day before so this was a good chance for me to get out on the ice and see a few shots. The skate lasted about 40 minutes, again ending with a string of shootout attempts.
To make our pre-game meal more like home, we had chicken and pasta… I cannot even begin to tell you how many chicken and pasta meals I have had in my life! Anyhow, following lunch, we had a meeting and video session to prepare for Canada. It was a chance to digest all the key information, before we all went upstairs for our afternoon nap. Before my game-day naps, I normally watch TV, but since I cannot understand the channels here, I choose to watch an episode of White Collar before shutting it down. Two-and-a-half hours later, I was up and getting ready for the game. This game-day process is like ‘Groundhog Day’ for me, as it is always the same no matter what.
I was so excited to arrive at the arena that night, getting ready to be a part of my first USA vs. Canada game. We were pumped to face our rivals, and since both teams had won the day before, at stake was a big advantage later in the tournament. Seeing Jamie Benn on the other blue-line was really different, but for that day, I obviously did not want him to win. The puck dropped and the battle began, and barely over a minute into the game, it was 1-0, USA. We controlled play for a while from there, and there was a fast pace to the game with the big ice and such great skaters on both sides. There were chances at both end of the ice, and the fans really seemed to create a great atmosphere. Canada was attacking though and they were able to put one in the back of our net, as the first period ended in a 1-1 tie. The second period was more of the same, a fast and exciting pace, but Canada opened up a 2-1 lead. Battling hard to get back to a tie game, we kept throwing pucks on net, and the power play guys worked a great play to feed Jack Johnson (Columbus Blue Jackets) for a one-timer goal, making it 2-2. The period ended with that score, so now all we had to do was win a period and we’d win the game.
The guys were putting all their energy on the ice, and after a scrum behind the Canada net, Patrick Dwyer (Carolina Hurricanes) made a tricky wrap-around to put us ahead, 3-2. That lead didn't last long though, as just about three minutes later, Canada rebounded to tie it up. We once again went up by a goal late in the game, but with the way the game was going, it figured that Canada would find and put it away to tie it up at four at the end of regulation. Right before the buzzer though, Canada took a delay of game penalty for batting a puck into the stands, which gave us a power play to start overtime. It was during this 4-on-3 attack that our captain, Jack Johnson, was able to blast home a shot from the point to win the game. Everyone on the bench burst with excitement and charged onto the ice to celebrate our win… it’s always great to say we beat Canada!
Once the game was over, we all regrouped in the locker room and played our victory song (I’ll share with you the name of the song at the end of the tournament, after many more victories). Everyone was smiling and really happy this night, and though this was a huge win for the United States, we still have a lot of work to do the rest of the tournament. More to come after our day off (Sunday) and our game vs. Slovakia on Monday...