Hawks stars return from World Juniors
It looked like a normal Winterhawks practice at the Memorial Coliseum on Thursday; however, this one was special.
Because Kieffer Bellows, Henri Jokiharju and Joachim Blichfeld were all back from a successful week at the World Juniors Hockey Tournament in Buffalo, New York.
“It feels great. I’m happy to be back,” says Hawks defender Jokiharju, who played for Finland at the World Juniors, a tournament featuring players under 20 years old from around the world. “It’s a lot harder and tougher to play over there -- games being so fast.”
Jokiharju says it was fun to recognize that you’re there playing with and against those types of players.
Jokiharju had two goals and two assists in five games for Finland. Blichfeld, a forward, had three goals and three assists for Denmark. Bellows set an American record with nine goals in seven games, helping team USA to the bronze medal. It was an amazing week for Bellows, also a forward.
“Awesome, unbelievable,” says Bellows. “It’s always a huge honor to wear the USA sweater out there, and a great group of guys. Obviously, not the outcome we wanted, but to medal three years in a row is a first for USA Hockey, so we took a lot of pride in that.”
Bellows and Team USA won gold a year ago and earned bronze this time. The 19-year-old was a first round draft pick by the N.Y. Islanders in 2016 and scored two goals, including a game winner in a 4-3 shootout victory over Canada in the outdoor game at New Era Field, home of the Buffalo Bills.
“Yeah, that was a lot of fun,” says Kieffer. “Playing the outdoor game is pretty special. The snow was perfect. It fit for a really good game with 45,000 people there.”
Hawks Head Coach Mike Johnston was very impressed with how all three players performed in Tournament and Bellows consistency at the Juniors.
“That’s a big stage,” says Johnston. “People don’t realize how much pressure those young kids are under, when they are representing their countries at a World Championship. To see him come through, time and time again, in pressure moments, especially a shootout, those types of things do so much for an athlete.”
Yes, it was an experience to cherish and remember for years to come.
“Every day you see the USA sweater in your stall, especially for the game days,” says Bellows. “You just have to stand back and just go, wow, like, I can’t believe I’m here. You never know the next time you’re going to wear a USA sweater and especially for that under-20 tournament. My last game, pretty emotional, not knowing when I’m going to get to wear the sweater next, so I took a lot of time. I wore it as much as I could and celebrated with the guys.”