GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Kailer Yamamoto (Spokane, Wash.) recorded four points (2-2) and Clayton Keller (Swansea, Ill.) scored two goals and added one assist as the U.S. Men’s Under-18 National Team downed Russia, 8-2, here tonight at the Ralph Engelstad Arena. The game was the first for Team USA at the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Men’s World Championship.
The United States opened scoring 3:44 into the first frame when Adam Fox (Jericho, N.Y.) sprung Keller with an outlet pass through center. Keller skated in and fired a shot that found space under Maxim Zhukov’s right leg pad and into the net. Less than a minute later, Trent Frederic (St. Louis, Mo.) backhanded a pass to James Sanchez (Northbrook, Ill.) who ripped a shot over the shoulder of Zhukov. Russia sliced the U.S. lead in half at the 5:17 mark, capitalizing on a rebound opportunity to the right of the net.
Russia knotted the game, 2-2, just over two minutes into the second stanza off a wraparound marker. After an outstretched stick save by Jake Oettinger (Lakeville, Minn.), Team USA pressed up ice and Yamamoto found Keller up the right boards. Keller flung a shot toward the net from the goal line and the puck ricocheted off Zhukov and in. Fourteen seconds later, off the ensuing faceoff, the U.S. worked the puck to Kieffer Bellows (Edina, Minn.) whose shot slid under Zhukov to double the Team USA advantage. Joey Anderson (Roseville, Minn.) and J.D. Greenway (Potsdam, N.Y.) assisted.
The U.S. extended its lead, 5-2, when Yamamoto tipped a Chad Krys (Ridgefield, Conn.) shot past Zhukov 6:19 into the third period. Anderson stuffed home a rebound at 7:30 on the power play and Team USA went up, 6-2. Krys and Keller earned helpers on the play. Yamamoto netted his second of the frame when a centering attempt was knocked past Zhukov by a Russian defenseman. Logan Brown (Raleigh, N.C.) and Casey Mittelstadt (Eden Prairie, Minn.) collected the assists. Brown joined in on the scoring with six minutes remaining in the game as Team USA pulled away with an 8-2 victory. Yamamoto and Griffin Luce (Williamsville, N.Y.) recorded helpers on Brown’s marker.
Oettinger made 19 stops in the win for the United States, while Zhukov and Danil Tarasov combined for 37 saves in the loss for Russia.
The U.S. Men’s Under-18 National Team continues preliminary play versus Sweden on Saturday (April 16). Puck drop is slated for 4:45 p.m. ET. The contest can be seen live on the NHL Network.
Keith Kaval took his warmup lap on the ice and the only thing he could think about before officiating one of the biggest games of his career was the illness that had sapped him of energy.
The longtime official skated around HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York, before the start of the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship gold-medal game and thought to himself, “This is not good.” Kaval was about to referee the championship game between Canada and Russia.
“I kind of composed myself and I ended up working the game,” Kaval recalled recently. “The game was amazing. We called what we had to call. We weren’t a direct affect in the game and the Russians came back in the third period to beat Canada, which was a crazy, amazing game. Being able to do that game here on our own soil was pretty amazing. That’s something I’ll probably never forget.”
Having the opportunity to officiate the game, and fight through his illness, is one just one of the experiences Kaval is drawing on as he has transitioned from on-ice official to the director of officiating for the North American Hockey League and North American Tier III Hockey League.
Kaval wants to use his nearly 30 years as an on-ice official to develop the next wave of officials and hopefully provide them the same opportunities he had in a career which spanned nearly every rung of the hockey ladder, including the American Hockey League, the Kontinental Hockey League and the NCAA.
“It’s a continuous thing where we’re trying to move guys up and move them on, and give them the experience that they need,” Kaval said of his new position. “They serve our league, obviously, but the end game is to get them prepared for the next level of hockey. It’s no different than our member clubs, a lot of good opportunities for our guys to earn scholarship with the various NCAA teams and no different with us. We’re trying to move our guys up and on as well. It’s pretty much, we co-exist with the teams trying to do the same thing.”
Kaval worked his last game in the AHL on Oct. 13, finally hanging up the skates after a long on-ice career. He hopes to impart some of his knowledge and experience on newer officials who are starting their careers.
While the highlight of his career might have been Canada-Russia in 2011, Kaval worked three straight IIHF World Championships. He also became the first North American official to work in Russia’s professional KHL.
“Every day was a challenge,” Kaval said. “It was a pretty cool experience and there’s another thing that I can share with our guys about being uncomfortable in different situations where pretty much the only normalcy was hockey.”
Having moved full-time into his new role, Kaval is enjoying the new experiences he faces after starting a career at age 13 while just trying to earn some money and extra ice time.
“The biggest thing for me is just learning about each individual official and what makes them tick, and then seeing what they do because they all bring different skill sets,” Kaval said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter system where this is our method or this is what’s going to work for you. Every official’s different and I’d just rather give them some perspective on what may have worked for me and they can take some of that.”
In the early-going, Kaval was traveling constantly to have face-to-face interaction with officials and teams. He’s working through the challenge of increasing numbers of total officials. He wants to train the officials on technique and help deliver tips. He also preaches accountability and communication.
“There are certain things we can control as officials; That’s being professional, that’s being good communicators and being honest and trying to work the best game we can,” Kaval said. “We’re never going to be perfect, but I think the teams are starting to realize in our league that we’re here and we’re a partner to, not only the league, but all of them in that we’re just trying to make the game better and trying to do what’s right to keep the game fair and safe.”