A pair of top Canadiens prospects clashed in the first outdoor game in World Juniors history on Friday afternoon, and as expected the game between Canada and the United States did not disappoint. Eyes on the Prize caught up with Ryan Poehling and Victor Mete after the game to get their thoughts on what was another chapter in hockey’s greatest rivalry.
Ryan Poehling, F, United States
EOTP: How was it out on the ice, with the heavy snow throughout the game?
Poehling: It was something you can’t put to words. It was great, we had a little bit of everything. The first period was great, there wasn’t really anything and then the second period it started coming down pretty hard, and then by the end of the game and the shootout it cleared up again. We got everything. It was something special.
What can you say about the resiliency of this group in tonight’s game, especially after last night?
It’s big, especially after last night. Coming back from being down 3-1 ... we’re a team, it’s all unity and we’re all in this together. When we’re down, we don’t blame one another, we rise up above it together.
What can you say about Casey Mittelstadt and what he’s been able to accomplish so far?
I’ve known Casey since I was in 10th grade, I played with him for two or three years, and I’ve said it since day one: he’s one of the most talented to ever play the game. So for him to come out there on this type of ice and with this much snow, to do that, it’s pretty cool to watch.
What kind of challenges did the weather pose to you out there?
We just had to simplify our game. We had to play a more north-south style game. Our D likes to go east-west, but we had to get our pucks deep and the forwards had to beat their defence in deep.
There’s a lot of Minnesota kids on this team that grew up playing on the ponds, did that help at all in these conditions?
(Laughs) Yeah, we grew up playing on ponds. I actually played an outdoor game my junior year of high school and it was 35 degrees. So instead of skating on ice, we’re skating through slush. It sort of helped, but this was still a challenge for everyone.
Was this a special moment to share with your collegiate head coach before you both head back to St. Cloud?
Yeah, it was something special, he gave me a little headshake after we won and I mean he doesn’t treat me any different, but you can feel that mutual happiness to bring this back to St. Cloud.
Is having the same coach in the NCAA and here at the tournament an advantage for you, due to it being similar playing styles?
For sure. Practices are the same way, we do the same drills, and getting up and down the ice with him as coach is a lot easier.
Your lines got shuffled up a bit and you didn’t miss a step with your new winger, why is that?
Yeah, for sure. Jonesy [Max Jones] is a power forward, and Chuker [Brady Tkachuk] is the same way so it wasn’t a tough adjustment at all. All these forwards on our team are great so, to battle adversity we just have to stick with it.
Victor Mete, D, Canada
How was the overall experience tonight?
Yeah, no, it was really cool, getting to play in front of 40,000 fans in a football field, while snowing, you’ll probably never get that experience again.
It was a choppy game, there wasn’t really any systems or plays being made, everything was up the boards, and whoever makes the mistakes gets the scoring chances against them. I thought we did pretty good, but obviously we can learn from what happened tonight and bring it into tomorrow.
The visibility was tough. You’re trying to wipe the snow off your visor with a towel, but the towel is wet and smudges up your visor. It was tough to see the puck too, sometimes it was stuck inside the snow and you’re carrying a snow pile on your stick with it.
How was the ice?
(Laughs) It was terrible, Nothing you could do about it though, it was like that for both of us.
A lot of your game is about speed and mobility, did the snow force you to change your style of play?
A little bit, because I didn’t want to try and do too much, because in a game like this I think that doing less is more, so I tried to be a fourth guy in as opposed to a first guy, because anything can happen on the ice there. There were a lot of turnovers tonight.
After the Slovakia game, you mentioned the intensity of the Canada/USA rivalry. Was that a factor that weighed on the game tonight?
I think so, the emotion and skill of both teams in this game were a big factor. Obviously we were up 3-1 then 3-3, then overtime and the shootout, and it’s like last year when they went to a shootout, except the good thing is we’re not finished here. We still have the rest of the tournament to play and we’ll come out stronger next game.
Do you think the outcome would have been different if the game was indoors?
For sure, I think the game would have been more structured for sure. Out here we’re just getting it up the boards, and indoors it’s more of an actual game compared to this.
Bob Motzko, Coach, United States
How did you get your team back into this game after being down 3-1?
At the end of the second period we thought we were playing pretty well, and we could get pucks deep and use our size and speed to get the pucks and get our chances. And they were good chances, and those were hard to come by tonight, I liked that we were on top of the puck on how we were playing.
Greg Brown, my assistant, said to me if we get one, we’re going to get two, and that’s all we said at the end of the second and, bing bing, we did.
This team showed a lot of character after the game yesterday, and I gave Slovakia a lot of credit for implementing their gameplan, but that was not a good showing for us. No matter what the result was tonight, we played hard.
Was the short turnaround a good thing after the game last night?
(Laughs) It was a great thing.
How motivated was this group after last night?
They came back tonight and that’s the thing our coaching staff and management wanted to see tonight, and you’re gonna get it with Canada. In the atmosphere with the drummer doing their thing and the fireworks, if they can’t get up for this, you’re never going to, and they were up.
You talked about the excellence of Canada yesterday, and you’ve beaten them three times in a row, what does that say about your team?
I’ll go back: it’s a rival, and it’s a heated rivalry, and the only way it’s a rivalry is that both teams have to win. The pendulum will swing back one year, I just hope it’s not this year.