Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Joseph Woll Backstops U.S. to 5-2 Victory Over Slovakia at World Junior Championship
TORONTO — When it was over, when the thrill of playing his first game at the Air Canada Centre had culminated with a 5-2 victory for his Team USA squad over Slovakia, goalie Joseph Woll got an education in Maple Leafs history.
Since his nickname fittingly is The Brick Woll, we had to ask him: Did he know that legendary Leafs goalie Johnny Bower was known as The China Wall?
“Really?” Woll said, breaking out into laughter. “No, I have to admit, that’s news to me.
“Obviously, I understand who Johnny Bower is. I just hope one day to be able to wear that Leafs jersey just like he did.”
We’re not about to compare The Brick Woll with The China Wall. One is a kid who made his ACC debut Wednesday night; the other is a Hall of Famer who is acknowledged to be one of the best goalies to ever strap on a set of pads in the National Hockey League.
Nevertheless, this was a self-proclaimed special evening for Woll, who was selected in the third round of the 2016 NHL draft by the Leafs.
“Skating out on the ice, I was just looking around thinking what it might be like to play here in the NHL for the Leafs,” he said. “I actually got a sense of the Canadian fans the other night when I watched the Canada-U.S. game.
“Maybe one day the (Leafs) fans in this building will be cheering for me.”
On this night, the Team USA puckstopper didn’t have to carry his team to victory over the Slovaks, who were thoroughly outplayed for a second consecutive night in preliminary round action at the 2017 world junior hockey championship.
Having said that, Woll, 18, was far busier against the Slovaks than goalie Connor Ingram had been 24 hours earlier in Canada’s 5-0 victory against the same opponent.
Ingram faced just six Slovak shots all night on Tuesday — two in the first period, one in the second, three in the third. His most dramatic moment in that game came when he wiped out while skating to the bench on a delayed penalty call to the Slovaks, eliciting a loud roar from the crowd.
While Ingram ended up seeing six Slovak shots in 60 minutes, Woll stopped that many in the game’s first 13 minutes Wednesday night. He ended up making 18 saves on 20 shots.
It’s a good bet that one of the most interested observers in Woll’s performance was Maple Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter, the man in charge of the Leafs draft. It was Hunter who pulled the trigger on the decision to pick Woll with the 62nd overall selection at the draft in Buffalo six months ago.
“We really believe he’s on a upward swing,” Hunter said at the time. “He’s going to a good program in Boston. We think he’s athletic and mentally strong.”
The 6-foot-2, 202 lb. Woll has a 10-6-1 record with a 2.51 goals-against average and .917 save percentage with Boston College this season. Of course, inside the Team USA dressing room he must feel as if he is surrounded by enemies, since the Americans sport six members of rival Boston University on their roster.
“It’s not so bad,” he chuckled. “I’m friends with most of them.”
Growing up in the St. Louis area, Woll was coached by a couple of former NHLers, Keith Tkachuk and Jeff Brown. Woll’s goalie instructor was Bruce Racine, who played for Toronto’s farm team in St. John’s in the mid-1990s.
“The Leafs have got a lot of young players with a great future, so hopefully I’m part of that,” Woll said.
While Tyler Parsons stands to see the most action between the pipes for the U.S., Woll accounted well for himself Wednesday night. Indeed, despite going through lengthy periods of inactivity, he looked right at home in the building he hopes one day will be exactly that — his National Hockey League home.
Interesting that the start of the third period was delayed so “the ice can settle down.” That was the exact explanation given by the officials. We’ve never heard that one before … Translation: too much water on the ice, perhaps? … While there were plenty of empty seats once again at the ACC, attendance for games in Montreal is an issue as well. The announced crowd for the Switzerland-Sweden game at the Bell Centre was 5,630 … In two games in this tournament, the Slovaks have been outshot 94-26 … The Americans continue to show outstanding balance on the offensive end. Twelve different Team USA players registered at least one point in the victory … While Team USA moved to 2-0 with wins over Latvia and Slovakia, the competition suddenly will become much stronger in the coming days. Coach Bob Motzko’s team will now face Russia on Thursday afternoon before renewing its rivalry with the host Canadians on New Year’s Eve Saturday in what will be the final preliminary round contest for both teams … One aspect of the American team that is quickly becoming obvious: shutting down one line in no way means opponents can stop them. The Clayton Keller-Colin White-Joey Anderson unit gets a lot of publicity, but the Kieffer Bellows-Jack Roslovic-Tage Thompson trio was dangerous each and every time it touched the puck Wednesday.