Pittsburgh hockey prospects lead Team USA to gold
It was a great moment for Pittsburgh hockey.
The United States' 3-1 victory over Sweden in the gold-medal game of the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship was capped Saturday by this scene in Ufa, Russia:
J.T. Miller, from Coraopolis, sent a sharp outlet pass to Upper St. Clair's Vince Trocheck, who scored into an empty net and guaranteed that a historic tournament from goalie John Gibson, of Whitehall, would have a golden ending.
A few minutes later, those three Western Pennsylvania hockey products joined close American teammate Riley Barber, of Washington, in singing the national anthem as the United States' flag was raised to the rafters.
“We know it. We talked about it throughout the entire tournament,” Trocheck said, adding that he “blacked out” after crossing the blue line with the puck on his stick blade and an empty net in his sights.
“We did grow up together. I've known Gibson since I was 6, playing with the Pittsburgh Predators. I met Barber and Miller when I was 11 when we were all with the Pittsburgh Hornets.”
Barber said the four friends “never get tired of talking about” their roots.
“We're Pittsburghers, so we're proud of where we came from,” he said. “It's an unbelievable thing to represent Pittsburgh in a way people aren't used to seeing.”
The World Junior Championship finale was likely the last game these four friends will play together.
Gibson, the tournament MVP and top goalie, allowing only nine goals in seven games, will return to his Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League.
His .955 save percentage for the tournament is tops for any American goalie in World Junior history.
“I got cut from a lot of teams in Pittsburgh,” Gibson said. “I always use that as motivation. I want to prove people wrong.”
The OHL also will welcome back Trocheck, who scored three tournament goals and will resume playing for the Saginaw Spirit.
Miller, who finished with nine points despite playing at center instead of wing, will resume AHL play, with the Connecticut Whale.
Barber will go back to college after scoring three tournament goals. His nationally ranked Miami (Ohio) Red Hawks are a contender to play in the NCAA men's Frozen Four in April at Consol Energy Center.
They are part of history as only the third group of Americans to win gold at the World Junior Championship. Team USA also won the 2004 and '10 tournaments.
They were congratulated on Twitter by 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympic heroes Mike Eruzione and Jim Craig.
They are the start, perhaps, of a golden age of Pittsburgh hockey — the fruits of the sport's surge in popularity since Mario Lemieux joined the Penguins in 1984 and Sidney Crosby's 2005 arrival that sparked another love affair.
All four players are Penguins fans. Each is aware of the franchise's ties to American hockey: Joey Mullen, the first U.S. player to score 500 goals; “Badger” Bob Johnson; and Herb Brooks, who helped shape the “Miracle” team with former Penguins general manager Craig Patrick; and Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma, the American general manager/coach tandem that led the franchise to the Stanley Cup in 2009.
“That's some elite group, and being a part of it is something I can share with my friends for the rest of my life,” Miller said.
“It's more than a gold medal to me. It's all the times we've shared and knowing this is how we end it.
“I can't really describe it more than that.”
Note: Host country Russia defeated Canada, 6-5, in overtime of the bronze-medal game.