The U.S. national junior team -- featuring a head coach from Minnesota, five players from the state and two promising Wild prospects -- will play for gold Thursday night at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship.
Team USA will attempt to beat rival Canada in Montreal at the Bell Centre at 7 p.m. on NHL Network.
What you need to know about the world junior tournament:
How the U.S. advanced
Team USA is 8-0 in the tournament after sweeping the preliminary round with wins against Latvia, Slovakia, Canada and Russia. The U.S. beat Switzerland 3-2 in the quarterfinals and Russia in a seven-round shootout for a 4-3 victory in the semifinals.
Canada vs. USA
The U.S. has just nine victories in 44 games against Canada at the World Junior Championships, but two in the past two years. Team USA beat Canada 3-1 on New Year’s Eve to finish the preliminary round unbeaten. Canada has won 16 World Junior championships, played in 24 gold medal games, medaled 29 times, and last won gold in 2015 when hosting the tournament. The U.S. has won three championships, played in four finals, and medaled nine times. Two of the three gold medals were won in the past seven years and the U.S. is 2-1 in championship games against Canada.
Head coach from St. Cloud State
Team USA is coached by the Huskies' Bob Motzko. The Austin, Minn., native is a St. Cloud graduate and was an assistant under Herb Brooks. He also was an assistant for the Gophers hockey program from 2001-2005 during the back-to-back national championship seasons. Motzko assisted Don Lucia when the Gophers head coach led the U.S. junior team in 2014. This is Motzko’s first international head coaching role.
The Gophers are represented at the tournament by freshman defenseman Ryan Lindgren and assistant coach Grant Potulny. The program has sent representatives to 39 of the 41 World Junior championships since inaugural event in 1977. Lindgren was Team USA's Player of the Game against Canada in the preliminary round. He helped hold the Canadians to one goal despite the U.S. being outshot and giving up six power plays. Potulny is making his second appearance as an assistant coach after helping lead the U.S. to a gold medal in 2013.
The team USA roster features five players from Minnesota: Forwards Joey Anderson (Roseville/Minnesota Duluth) and Kieffer Bellows (Edina/Boston University); defensemen Jack Ahcan (Savage/St. Cloud State) and Lindgren (Minneapolis/University of Minnesota); and goaltender Jake Oettinger (Lakeville/Boston University). Anderson leads the group with two assists. Bellows, Lindgren and Ahcan each have one assist. Oettinger has not played as the Americans are riding Tyler Parsons of the OHL's London Knights.
Luke Kunin, the Wild’s 2016 first-round NHL draft pick, is Team USA’s captain. The University of Wisconsin center has two goals and two assists through eight games. Kunin was ejected for a game misconduct against Canada on what replays show might have been a legal hit. Kunin, who is from the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, Mo., is the second-most penalized player in the tournament and has won 62 percent of his faceoffs. Jordan Greenway, the Wild's second round pick in 2015, has three goals and four assists; at 6-5 and 230, he's a prototypical power winger who is expected to sign with the Wild when his season ends at Boston University.
Two Wild prospects are in the bronze medal game (2:30 p.m., NHL Network). Russian captain Kirill Kaprizov (8-3-11) is the second leading scorer in the tournament. Swedish captain Joel Eriksson Ek (6-3-9) is fifth. Eriksson Ek, the team's first round pick in 2015, played briefly for the Wild earlier this season. Kaprizov (fifth round in 2015) plays in the Kontinental League and likely wouldn't join the Wild until 2018.