The U-18 World Championship got underway today in Germany, marking the start of one of the draft classes' premier events. From a four-goal game to highlight-reel goals, the opening day had a bit of everything.
First Star: F Isaac Howard, USA | 4G
The Americans came into the tournament as the favorites and made a statement against the defending champions. Howard was a star for the U.S. as he scored the game's opening two goals before adding another in the second. On top of his goals, he was creating havoc all over the offensive zone. Attacking the net-front with purpose, deflecting pucks on net and battling through the Canadian defenders to do it. The duo of Howard and Frank Nazar III were impressive to watch as their quickness and pace seemed to overwhelm Canada at times. If they lost the puck, they were hunting it down without hesitation.
Howard was clearly not satisfied with the hat trick as he continued to generate quality chances throughout the third period as well. His continued pressure led to a fourth goal for Howard who popped into space at the top of the slot with impeccable timing where Logan Cooley finds him with a perfect pass. Howard made no mistake, finding twine on a great shot. The Wisconsin native was a true difference-maker for an American squad who made a big statement. Howard hasn’t been getting the hype that some of the other U.S. NTDP forwards have received this year, but make no mistake: he's making it hard to ignore him right now.
Second Star: C Connor Bedard, Canada | 1G - 1A
Are we shocked that, even in a losing effort, Connor Bedard finds his way onto the list’? Seemingly one of the only Canadians who showed up in the game against their arch-rival, Bedard did everything he could for his team. His goal was an absolute snipe from below the faceoff circle. A true thing of beauty. His assist may have been just as impressive, collecting the puck along the end boards and sending a pass to BCHL star Matthew Wood for a tap-in.
Normally known as a flashy player who can dominate in a way not many others have ever been able to, Bedard was physical at times in this one as well. U.S. defenseman Seamus Casey attempted to step into him in the offensive zone and Bedard laid him on his butt. It might feel a bit weird for Bedard to be second star despite Canada being blown out by the Americans but it was of no fault of Bedard’s. The rest of the team, particularly the defense group, really needs to step up if Canada wants to do anything in this tournament.
Third Star: F Joakim Kemell, Finland | 1G - 1A
Sometimes, a player just does what he always seems to do. In Kemell’s case, that’s scoring power-play goals and bringing an underrated physical element to the game. Capturing the ‘Player of the Game’ as Finland beat the Swiss 6-2, Kemell finished with a goal on the power play and an assist with some hits along the way. Kemell is a real threat to score every time he is on the ice because of his shot but he seemed much more open to sending passes to his teammates in this one as well.
Honorable Mention: F Jiří Kulich, Czechia | 2G
The fast-rising 2022 NHL draft prospect was expected to use the U-18 World Championship as a showcase to show that he deserves first-round consideration and on day one, he did just that. With two goals, Kulich was able to help lead the Czech squad to a victory over the Germans. Kulich almost opened the scoring early in the game when he batted the puck out of the air but unfortunately, it was with his hand and was overturned. While Kulich was the finisher on these goals, Eduard Šalé was in on both goals as well as another. The 2023 NHL draft-eligible has a good shot so it was nice to see Šalé use his vision and playmaking ability to find teammates in good spots, collecting three assists on the afternoon.