Saturday, December 30, 2017

Matchup Friday: CAN/USA; RCH/TOR; BUF/NJD. Mittlestadt, plus

Published by, 12-29-2017

Western New York hockey fans have a full slate of games beginning at 3pm today with Casey Mittelstadt and Team USA taking on Team Canada at New Era Field. In the evening the Rochester Americans are at Toronto to take on the Marlies (TOR) and the Buffalo Sabres travel to New Jersey to face off against the Devils Both of those games are 7pm starts.

USA vs. Canada

Perhaps Team USA got caught looking ahead last night and when you add in that they faced a non-descript Slovakian goalie in Roman Durny who probably had a career game while stopping 43 of 45 Team USA shots, it had all the makings for a classic trap game.

The turnaround is all that great for the Americans either as their 8pm start had them playing well into the night and they'll be back on the ice for a 3pm puckdrop today. Reports from New Era Field, home of the NFL's Buffalo Bills, has rough conditions with temperatures in the teens, and an even colder wind-chill. They're also saying the ice will be less than ideal.

Team Canada has been flying on the ice through their first two games outscoring their first two opponents (Finland and Slovakia) by a combined 10-2 score. Having ice conditions as they're expected to be may slow them down a bit. Team USA needs to recover from the loss last night as another loss will make it very difficult to defend their gold medal-winning run last year.

This is the first-ever outdoor game in IIHF World Junior Championships history. Early indications are that they expect 40,000+ fans for the game, which would be the largest in the tournament's history.

Rochester Americans vs. Toronto Marlies

Right now, the Amerks and Marlies are tied atop the AHL's North Division with 44 points each.

Rochester is a pleasant surprise this season after finishing 26th-overall the previous two seasons. The Amerks have a new coaching staff and a revamped lineup that has been on a tear lately. They lost for only the fourth time in regulation dating back to the end of a three-game skid on October 25. In that 27-game span Rochester is 17-4-6.

This is the second meeting between the two North Division rivals. Toronto won the first game 3-2 in Rochester to end the Amerks 10-game point-streak.

Linus Ullmark, who is tied for the AHL lead in wins (14) looks to get the start in net while Garrett Sparks and his second-best 1.85 goals-against average will be in net for Toronto after Calvin Pickard was called up to the Maple Leafs.

Buffalo Sabres vs. New Jersey Devils

The last time these to teams met would be a game the Sabres would like to forget. Buffalo had been dispatched by the NY Islanders two days prior and returned home to get spanked by the Devils.  It was a game where the Sabres tried to run with New Jersey but it turned into a battle between the thoroughbred Devils and the wanna-be race horse Sabres.

Things have change for the Sabres since then, mostly in the style of play as they pulled back the reigns and are playing a much more conservative game. Because of that, they're in games more often these days, and have been playing much better, but their league-low 2.16 goals/game and their 9-20-8 record is an indication that they still have a ways to go. The young and fast Devils sit atop an extremely tough Metropolitan Division with a 22-9-5 record.

Buffalo is 1-7-2 in their last 10 vs. New Jersey, 3-4-3 on the road and hopefully put that dismal October performance against the Devils far away where they'll never see it again. New Jersey won their first meeting with Buffalo by a 6-2 score.

The Sabres are on Game-3 of seven games away from KeyBank Center. By all standards, it's actually a seven-game road trip save for the fact that their game against the NY Rangers in the 10th Winter Classic has been dubbed a home-game in spite of the fact that they're playing in at Citi Field in NY City.

Go figure.

Casey Mittelstadt

If you haven't seen it by now, go to the 1:20 of this video provided by USA Hockey and check out Casey Mittelstadt game-tying goal for Team USA vs. Slovakia.

Gotta love the Bobby Orr-type ending.

Mittelstadt has been outstanding for the Americans this year as he leads the tournament with three goals.

Slovakians to watch

Team Slovakia won beat the Americans last night on the strength of the aforementioned goaltending of Durny, and he's not even their best goalie.

Slovakia's No. 1 goalie is David Hrenak and although he and his mates got crushed by Team Canada, the 6'2" 192 lb. netminder kept it from being worse as he faced 52 shots on goal.

Hrenak plays for St. Cloud State, the top ranked team in NCAA Men's D-I hockey where he leads the college ranks with a 1.40 goals-against average and a .962 save percentage while being a back-up. Sabres scouts should be very aware of the 2018 draft eligible Hrenak two Sabres prospects, F, Judd Peterson (2012, 204th-overall) and D, Will Borgen (2015, 92nd) both play for the Huskies.

Another Slovakian player who may have already gotten noticed by Sabres scouts is forward Filip Krivosik who scored their first two goals last night. Krivosik, a 6'4" 190 lb. forward plays for LeKi Lempaala of the second-tier Finnish League, Mestis. Also on that team is Sabres goalie prospect Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen (2017, 54th.)

The game-winning goal was scored by Samuel Bucek, a 6'3" 194 lb. forward who plays for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League. It's Bucek's second season in the USHL and he has 18 points (7+11) in 20 games for the Steel. The moves he put on the entire USA team and his follow through for the winner was impressive.

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