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Bellows and Tkachuk break out of family shadow with Team USA

When he opened the scoring for the United States in Tuesday's quarterfinal, the celebration took Kieffer Bellows into the glass, right where a fan was turned to highlight his attire — a Minnesota North Stars jersey bearing the name "Bellows."

Kieffer saw the jersey, but he didn't realize until later it was one of his cousins wearing his dad's old jersey.

That's how difficult it can be for Bellows to escape his family history.

Kieffer is the son of Brian Bellows, who had a 17-year NHL career and won the Stanley Cup in 1993.

And the younger Bellows continues to keep the hockey tradition all in the family. He will be looking to lead the U.S. in the World Junior Championship as the Americans face undefeated Sweden in the first semifinal at 4 p.m. Thursday in KeyBank Center.

He's not the only one making waves at this tournament, showcasing his hockey skill while breaking out from the family shadow.

Brady Tkachuk has been having himself a breakout performance in his first World Juniors, ranking second on Team USA in scoring with seven points (two goals, five assists) trailing only tournament leader, and Sabres prospect, Casey Mittelstadt. Brady's brother, Matthew, now in his second season with the Calgary Flames, won World Juniors gold in 2015 and bronze in 2016, while his dad, Keith, was a 19-year NHL veteran who has an Olympic silver medal on his resume.

"Two of the guys on our team sure have a flair for showing up at a big time with a big moment. I think their dads did, too, in their career," U.S. coach Bob Motzko said of Bellows and Tkachuk. "It's good to have I guess. There's something good in the water there that those kids were drinking and you can see in their play. You see the replay when Bellows scored and there's that No. 23 North Stars jersey, even we got a kick out of that."

Bellows, the first-round pick of the New York Islanders in 2016, is hoping to help lead Team USA to a repeat of the gold medal at the World Junior Championship. He was part of last year's team, and this year he's been a clutch performer for the United States, leading the tournament in goals with six, including three on the power play.

"I think for everyone it's not hard to get up for big games and get going," Bellows said. "Just putting pucks on net. Sooner or later they'll go in."

They've also been going in for Tkachuk, a freshman at Boston University who is draft eligible this year. He's been making the most of his first World Juniors experience and arguably is playing some of his best hockey.

"I definitely think I've taken it up a couple of levels and I definitely feel like I have a couple more levels to get to, but right now I'm just trying to prepare and focus to play my best and have our team play its best for Sweden," Tkachuk said.

The NHL pedigree is helpful, but the U.S. will need more than just genetics to advance to the gold medal game.

The U.S. faces a Swedish team that has not lost in the tournament and is hungry to earn a medal. While Sweden has run its preliminary-round winning streak to 44 games (last losing in group play to the U.S.  in the 2007 tournament), they have lost in the bronze medal game the last three years.

"The thing is that you play better teams in the medal rounds than in the qualifying stages," laughed Sweden coach Tomas Monten. "That's the difference. ... Some years we just weren't good enough. The other top three teams were better. We'll see this year. The preliminary round is one thing, the playoffs is another."

Monten said that captain Lias Andersson would be in Thursday's lineup. Andersson, who ranks second in the tournament with five goals, was injured in the third period of Sweden's final preliminary round game against Russia. In the quarterfinal win over Slovakia he did not play for most of the third period.

But Motzko and the U.S. aren't concerned about Andersson's status. Not specifically. The key for the Americans against a fast and offensively talented Team Sweden is to stick to what has made the U.S. successful.

"This team has to play a little old fashioned. Play old-fashioned hockey," Motzko said. "We have to be good on special teams. We have to be good on faceoffs, on retrieving pucks, not turning the puck over, ... holding teams to very low shots. And we're not doing it defensively, we're doing it by good fundamental hockey. That's when we're at our best and it gives a chance then for our top guys to give us leads and get us going. We've got to be a little old-fashioned, just a sound, fundamental hockey team."

Oh, and don't forget disciplined. The U.S. needs to stay out of the penalty box.

"I heard we're the second-least penalized team but I think we're taking too many penalties," said Motzko, who admitted he wasn't sure if that stat was accurate.

Not quite.

The U.S. is tied with eliminated Finland for the fewest penalties in the tournament, an average of six minutes a game.

"We've got to stay out of the penalty box," Motzko said. "When we're playing five-on-five hockey, I like how things are going for us. We can play a heavy game, we can play smart defensively. We're not fancy at times. We've got a couple of guys that are. That's our game. We just have to stick to what our game is."



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