United States celebrate their win over Canada in IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship gold medal game action in Edmonton on Tuesday, January 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

American NHLers bask in junior team’s glory after gold-medal win over rival Canada

American NHLers bask in junior team’s glory after gold-medal win over rival Canada

Teased by a trainer after Russia was eliminated from the world junior hockey championship, Ottawa Senators forward Alex Galchenyuk ended up getting the last laugh.

Galchenyuk, who was born in Milwaukee to Belarusian parents, was a member of the United States team that beat Sweden 3-1 in the final of the 2013 world junior event. But one of the Senators’ trainers, perhaps unaware of his pedigree, decided to give Galchenyuk the gears after Russia was eliminated 5-0 by Canada in Monday’s semifinal.

“A few days ago when Team Russia lost, one of the trainers camp up to me and wanted to make fun of me,” Galchenyuk said Wednesday. “I told him, ‘Do your research because I played for Team U.S.A.’”

Galchenyuk’s country came through again Tuesday night, with a 2-0 win over Canada in the 2021 final at Edmonton’s Rogers Place.

“He was pretty quiet today,” Galchenyuk said. “We had a good laugh about it. I’m happy for Team U.S.A.”

While he was able to enjoy the United States’ victory after the fact, the 9:30 p.m. ET start time meant he couldn’t watch the final live.

“”I was sleeping,” he said.

Defenceman Jake Sanderson, drafted fifth overall by the Senators in 2020, was part of the team that won the fourth gold medal for the U.S. since 2010.

“It’s probably the fastest gold-medal game I can remember in a long time,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said. “That’s a lot of good hockey players out there. One hockey game, anyone can win.

“Kudos to the United States for what they did, and what they did throughout the tournament. Canada represented very well, as well.”

Galchenyuk wasn’t the only American playing north of the border who enjoyed his country winning in enemy territory. Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Justin Holl took in the game with teammate Mitch Marner.

“Mitch and I were watching and were kind of separately pulling for our teams,” Holl said. “U.S.A looked great.”

Holl said he was impressed with the moxie of tournament MVP Trevor Zegras. Canada was dominant in its run to the final, but Zegras said before the game that the hosts hadn’t been tested 5-on-5. He then scored one of the Americans’ goals and assisted on the other — with both coming at even strength.

“This Zegras guy is unreal,” Holl said. “The message that he sent before the game was crazy, but he backed it up I guess. It was fun to watch, and go U.S.A.”

Ottawa winger Alex Formenton, who helped Canada beat American teammates Josh Norris and Brady Tkachuk in the preliminary round en route to a gold medal at the 2018 championship, said Canada could be proud of taking silver.

“It brought back some good memories of playing in that tournament,” he said. “I’m pretty proud of the Canadians and how well they did at that tournament. I know how tough it is. I think they had a good showing.”

Did his American teammates let him have it on Wednesday?

“It was a little bit tough to walk by them and have them in my ear about that win. But it happens sometimes.”

Meanwhile, New York Rangers defenceman Jacob Trouba, who was a teammate of Galchenyuk in 2013, found the two Senate races in Georgia competing for his attention Tuesday night.

“I was flipping back between world juniors and the Georgia runoff,” he said. “Caught a little bit of both.

“It was a really fast game. Two really good teams, a lot of high-skilled players.”

LEARNING THE LANGUAGE

Toronto’s Russian players are getting a big boost acclimatizing to life in North America from former Maple Leafs forward Nik Antropov.

The native of Kazakhstan has been serving as translator for as part of his player development role with the club that drafted him 10th overall in 1998. He was on hand to help two of the Leafs’ Russian players, Ilya Mikheyev and Alexander Barabanov, field questions from reporters at Wednesday’s team video conference.

“Nik has been a terrific addition to our staff, not only because of the language, he’s been great on the skill side of it too,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said.

“I’ve had meetings with both Barabanov and Mikheyev with Nik there to help and make sure they understand and answer questions they might have. But in both cases of Mikky and Bear, their English has come along very nicely to the point that myself and them are able to communicate pretty well.”

Mikheyev, in fact, was confident enough in his progress to field questions from Wednesday’s availability in English.

Antropov played nine seasons with Toronto before being traded to the New York Rangers in the 2009-10 campaign. The six-foot-six centre had 193 goals and 272 assists in 788 career NHL games with Toronto, New York and Atlanta/Winnipeg.

WATSON LIKES WHAT HE SEES IN OTTAWA

Austin Watson was part of some really good teams during a decade spent with the Nashville Predators’ organization.

The 28-year-old winger knows the situation with the rebuilding Senators is vastly different, but he sees good days ahead.

“It’s been really nice to get in here and get after it with the guys,” Watson said. “There’s a ton of talent with this group, but the competition level and the work ethic out of the guys early on has been amazing.”

Following some well-documented personal struggles a few seasons ago, he signed a three-year, US$4.5-million contract extension with Nashville in 2019 only to be traded to Ottawa in October.

The six-foot-four, 205-pound bruiser, selected 18th overall at the 2010 NHL draft, said his role on a young team trying to take a step in what should be a tough, all-Canadian North Division is simple.

“Have that high-energy, high-physicality 200-foot game,” said Watson, who has 77 points and 358 penalty minutes in 306 career NHL contests.

And while new to Canada’s capital, the Ann Arbor, Mich., product has a history with Senators head coach D.J. Smith, who was an assistant with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires when Watson was with the team in both 2008-09 and 2009-10.

“With any player/coach relationship, if you can establish that trust or if you have that, it makes that transition much easier,” Watson said. “D.J expects a lot out of us.”

EARLY OPTIMIST

Before Montreal’s surprising post-season run in Toronto, Joel Edmundson had a good feeling about the Canadiens.

As a defenceman with the Carolina Hurricanes, Edmundson was impressed by the Habs during a visit to Montreal.

“It wasn’t even just playoffs,” said Edmundson, who was traded to Montreal in September before signing a four-year deal with the Canadiens.

“Just watching them throughout the season, when we came up here, they beat us and played a really fast game. Just an exciting team to watch. When they traded for me, I wanted to get deal done right away … I’m a big fan of this franchise.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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