WJC 2018 Recap: Was Goaltending USA’s Problem?

United States winning bronze at the 2018 WJC

In the 2017 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, the United States came back from two two-goal deficits in the third period to edge Canada, 5-4, in a shootout to capture the gold medal for the first time since 2013. The USA squad looked to capture gold once again in the 2018 World Juniors, and had to rely on the tandem of Jake Oettinger and Joseph Woll to lead them from the crease.

Jake Oettinger, a first-round pick of the Dallas Stars at 26th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, currently plays at Boston University in the Hockey East Conference. Oettinger, who was on USA’s World Juniors roster last time around but did not suit up for a game, is 4-6-1 in 11 GP for the Terriers, with a 2.91 GAA and .905 SV%, and a shutout to boot.

Oettinger’s counterpart Joseph Woll, also on the gold medal-winning American roster last World Juniors, in which he started 2 games and won both posting a 1.50 GAA and .934 SV% only giving up 3 total goals, would be competing with Oettinger for the starting role on this year’s squad. Woll, a third-round pick at 62nd overall in the 2016 draft of the Toronto Maple Leafs, plays out of Boston College in Hockey East, and has a 7-5-2 record with a 2.70 GAA and .905 SV%.

Jake Oettinger in 2018 WJC preliminary round outdoor game vs. Canada
Jake Oettinger in 2018 WJC preliminary round outdoor game vs. Canada

The Americans decided to rotate each of Jake Oettinger and Joseph Woll between games in the preliminary round, likely to see if any one of the young goalies would stand out and take the reins. In 2 GP, Oettinger collected a pair of wins: one against Denmark, and a shootout win against the Canadians outdoors at New Era Field. Woll, on the other hand, appeared in net in a 3-2 loss to Slovakia, as well as an all-important 5-4 win over Finland to advance to the quarterfinals with a chance to medal again.

Joseph Woll earned the nod for the United States in the quarterfinals, and started both of their games, first against Russia in which the Americans came away with a 4-2 victory, and then against the eventual silver-medal winning Sweden, where the U.S. lost 4-2 and saw their hopes of winning a gold medal for the second year in a row crushed. In the bronze-medal game, Jake Oettinger led the United States past the Czech Republic, 9-3, to capture the bronze medal. This marks the first time in USA Hockey’s history that the Americans have medaled three times in a row (2016 Bronze, 2017 Gold, 2018 Bronze).

In hindsight, were Jake Oettinger and Joseph Woll the best choices USA Hockey could have gone with for the 2018 WJC? Based on their season stats with their respective schools, neither goalie has posted exceptional numbers, and each goaltender has actually struggled thus far this season. One can wonder whether there were any better pickings out of the NCAA than these two goalies.

Joseph Woll in 2018 WJC quarterfinals game vs. Sweden
Joseph Woll in 2018 WJC quarterfinals game vs. Sweden

Both goaltenders are familiar with the USA Hockey systems, coaching and management, as well as many of the players on this year’s roster, as they have each had experience in previous World Juniors. But the disappointing outcome of this World Junior Championship, in which Canada had an atypically weak roster and no one country seemed slated for gold, begs the question as to whether or not goaltending was the United States’ problem in this tournament.

Both Oettinger and Woll failed to stand on their heads when games and goals really mattered, and neither goalie ever really took over the ice as they should. With a potent offense driven by Casey Mittelstadt, Kieffer Bellows and Brady Tcakhuk, the U.S. should have been able to do more damage than they did. Hopefully they scout the goalie prospect pool next time around, for the 2019 WJC.

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