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With something to prove, the U.S. wins bronze

The coaching staff took a variety of different tactics to rally Team USA on Friday.

After all, no one really wants to be in this game, the bronze medal game, the consolation prize of the World Junior Championship.

In the moment, bronze seems like something to settle for. Years later, it can become the most prized possession.

That's what assistant coach Greg Brown told Team USA and his story resonated with the group which went on to win bronze with a 9-3 win over the Czech Republic in front of 7,122 in KeyBank Center Friday evening.

Brown was a member of the 1986 U.S. team that won bronze at the World Juniors. That was the first time the U.S. won a medal at the World Juniors.

"Greg Brown said it the best. Thirty years ago he was on the World Junior team that won the first medal for the United States and it was bronze and he said how proud he was of that medal," U.S. coach Bob Motzko said. "And then another time he had an opportunity and he didn't medal. These are young kids. And you hope it resonated.

"We had a handful of scenarios we painted for them. The pride for USA Hockey and this team and what we went through. ... The emotions in this tournament are incredible. You go as high as they can go and as low as they can go and (Thursday's semifinal loss to Sweden) was as low as they can go and then you have to pick it back up. I think the message resonated and I know they understand it now."

The American kids certainly get it now. This bronze wasn't merely a consolation prize. It was an opportunity to make a statement about USA Hockey, about the depth, potential, and grit of American players. About the U.S. becoming a major factor on the international ice hockey scene.

And this bronze medal helped them to make their case.

The U.S. has now won a medal in three straight World Junior Championships β€” a bronze in 2016, gold in 2017, and bronze in 2018. It's the first such streak for USA Hockey's men's national junior team at the most prestigious tournament for teenage players.

It doesn't match Russia's seven straight years of winning a medal, a streak spoiled by the U.S. with their win over Russia in the quarterfinals. Nor does it match Canada with two five-year streaks of winning gold.

But it's a definite step.

"It shows what a great spot USA Hockey is in," said U.S. captain Joey Anderson. "Hopefully it continues like that. We definitely have the talent level in this country to do that. Tonight, you see the resilience in our group. USA Hockey is full of kids like that. The staff especially, they make sure the kids know there's a great deal of pride in medaling. Even though it's not gold, this bronze medal still means a ton."

"It sets the stage for younger kids coming up that USA Hockey is in a really good place," said Kieffer Bellows.

Bellows set the stage for himself to skate into hockey stardom and USA Hockey lore. The New York Islanders prospect playing in the Western Hockey League this season set the USA record for most goals in a World Junior Championship. He netted two in Friday's win against the Czech Republic for nine in seven games. That broke the mark set by Jeremy Roenick who scored eight in the 1989 tournament.

But Bellows is quick to credit his teammates, as he has all tournament. And his teammates gave him plenty of support.

Trent Frederic had a four-goal game, while Anderson, Ryan Poehling, and Patrick Harper also scored for the United States.

Frederic kicked off the scoring with four seconds left in the first period. After a rather boring opening 20 minutes, the U.S. found itself on the penalty kill. Frederic pounced on a turnover on the blueline and rushed down the ice, scoring a shorthanded goal to put the U.S. up, 1-0.

Then nine seconds into the second period, still on the penalty kill, Ryan Poehling scored, putting in a pass from Anderson for a 2-0 lead.

"I think it just shows our resiliency. We're able to respond well and take a lot of pride even in the bronze medal game," Anderson said. "We show up. We made sure we're fighting for everything."

After the two short-handed goals, the offense flowed freely. By the end of the second the U.S. had a commanding 7-0 lead.

That helped lift the U.S. to its 11th medal in World Juniors history.

"The first period was very tight and we got very fortunate on two goals that broke it open for us," Motzko said. "Very proud of our guys. I'm sure both of us were very disappointed after yesterday. Our players wanted to leave here on a very positive note. This is the last time they were going to wear this jersey for this team and we're very proud of the effort they put in tonight to get it done.

"These medals are very difficult to get. They really are," Motzko said. "The players that are coming forward in the future, there's expectations now, but they're not climbing a mountain. The people before us did that. So we're in a great spot so those expectations will stay strong for us."

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