By JOHN WAWROW
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Thursday, January 11, 2018
BUFFALO -- A funny thing happened when the offensively challenged Sabres left town for two weeks to make way for the world junior hockey championship.
Buffalo's win-starved hockey fans got a promising glimpse into the future thanks to Casey Mittelstadt. The 19-year-old forward from Eden Prairie, Minn., earned tournament MVP honours while keying the United States' run to a bronze medal.
"You have to find hope and positive energy from a performance such as Casey's," Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said.
"With it being here in Buffalo, there was that added pressure," Botterill added. "And I think you saw a player who, instead of succumbing to the pressure, actually thriving in that type of environment."
Mittelstadt, selected by the Sabres with the eighth pick in last year's draft, finished tied for the tournament lead with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in seven games. And the University of Minnesota freshman punctuated his visit by scoring a highlight-reel goal in a 3-2 preliminary-round loss to Slovakia.
With Team USA trailing 2-1, Mittelstadt stripped the puck from Marian Studenic at the Slovakia blue line and circled back into the zone. Mittelstadt kicked the puck between his legs to avoid a check by defender Michal Ivan and didn't break stride in cutting across the top of the crease and avoiding goalie Roman Durny. He swept a shot into the open left side with 3 minutes, 11 seconds remaining.
That was nothing, said U.S. captain Joey Anderson, who grew up playing with Mittelstadt.
"He's got a whole arsenal of fun stuff to watch," Anderson said.
Botterill laughed when asked how many times he replayed the goal.
"What I was really impressed about that goal was certainly it was a beautiful, beautiful hockey play, but it was the timing of it," Botterill said. "Here was a scenario where he was trying to give his team a spark in a crucial situation. I think that's certainly what we need here in Buffalo."
Ah yes, the Sabres, a team mired in last place in the Eastern Conference standings and in jeopardy of extending its franchise-worst playoff drought to seven seasons. Buffalo has a league-worst 96 goals, scoring one or fewer goals 14 times, including five shutouts.
Casey Mittelstadt, drafted by the Sabres last year, helped the United States win bronze at the world junior hockey championship in Buffalo.
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