World Juniors: USA, Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski drop gold medal game


World Juniors: USA, Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski drop gold medal game

Sharks prospect Sasha Chmelevski scored a goal and an assist in the third period, but the United States fell short of a gold medal-winning comeback against Finland at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship on Saturday. Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko scored the game-winning goal with 1:32 remaining in the third period.

Chmelevski was named the Americans' player of the game. In addition to his two points, he led the game with six shots on goal.

The Americans trailed by two goals with just 14 minutes left in the third, after Otto Latvala doubled Finland's lead. 61 seconds later, Chmelevski kick-started the Americans' comeback. 

Chmelevski dropped a pass to linemate Jack Hughes -- the prospective No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft -- but Hughes' shot was blocked. Chmelevski found the puck at the bottom of the left face-off circle moments later, and fired a shot past sprawling goaltender Ukko-Pekko Luukkonen.

1:46 later, Chmelevski set up the game-tying goal. The Huntington Beach native grabbed a loose puck, and whipped a cross-ice, back-hand pass to former Sharks prospect Josh Norris, who one-timed past Luukonen to even the score.

Finland and the United States appeared headed for overtime, until Kakko broke the Americans' hearts. 

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The United States trailed by a goal after 40 minutes, and Chmelevski himself had a few close calls.

Late in the period, the 19-year-old couldn't corrall a bouncing puck, fanned on the ensuing shot and hit the outside of the post. He was also denied a short-handed scoring chance with about a minute-and-a-half left in the opening frame.

The United States appeared to take a 1-0 lead 10 minutes in, but Oliver Wahlstrom's goal was disallowed for goaltender interference. The officials determined Chmelevski intefered with Luukonen, and the score remained knotted at zero. 

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After his two-point effort in the gold medal game, the Sharks prospect finished the tournament with seven points (four goals, three assists). That tied for second on the United States, and Chmelevski also played on the power play and penalty kill for the silver-medal winners.

The Sharks drafted Chmelevski in the sixth round (No. 185 overall) of the 2017 draft. He is in his final year of junior eligbility -- unless he returns as an overage player -- and has 39 points (12 goals, 27 assists) in 30 games with the Ottawa 67s this season. Last spring, Chmelevski skated in six regular-season games with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda on an amateur tryout, helping the Sharks' top affiliate clinch a spot in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He scored four points down the stretch, and added two more points in four postseason games. 

How Aaron Dell's win could boost fellow goalie Martin Jones, Sharks’ defense

How Aaron Dell's win could boost fellow goalie Martin Jones, Sharks’ defense

SAN JOSE -- After Aaron Dell tended twine in the Sharks' first regular-season win Thursday in Chicago, many believe he might start a second consecutive game.

From the looks of things at Saturday's morning skate, however, de facto starter Martin Jones will get the call instead Sunday night when the Sharks host the Calgary Flames.

But the decision to start Dell against the Blackhawks wasn't about sending a message to Jones after four straight losses, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said Saturday. That decision was about giving his backup goalie more starts.

In the long run, this is something that could greatly benefit the Sharks' goaltending situation.

"It isn't any kind of indictment on Martin Jones," DeBoer insisted when asked about choosing to start Dell in Chicago. "I kind of decided over the summer that I wanted to play Deller more."

While Jones and Dell both faced downturns in performance through their 2018-19 campaigns and ended the regular season with goals-against averages under .900, Dell was the goalie who spent most of the time sitting on the bench. So DeBoer gave his backup some offseason homework ahead of this season so that, hopefully, wouldn't happen again.

Dell then showed off that hard work in his start, making huge saves that kept the Blackhawks from running up the scoreboard early in the contest. In the final minute of play, Dell's insane saves allowed San Jose to hang on for their first win.

"I wanted to play him more last year, but he didn't allow me that opportunity to," DeBoer admitted. "So I told him over the summer that, 'I want to get you in more games than I did last year. I'm going to give you the opportunity early to play some more, but you have to help me and play well when you get in there.' And I think he did that."

Getting better performances out of Dell ultimately can help Jones, too. Jones plays some of his best hockey when the stakes are higher, and he easily could get a boost from his backup having a more reputable season. And since the two netminders have built a solid working relationship, the whole team can benefit.

"We've had a good relationship over the last few years, so it's been good for our team, " Jones said. "We're on the same team here. We all want the same thing. We all want to win."

Now, if the defense in front of both Jones and Dell can tighten up, the Sharks really will be in good shape.

[RELATED: Marleau talks pregame jitters ahead of SAP Center return]

"We've started to help our goaltenders, but our game in front of those guys isn't where it needs to be yet either," DeBoer said. "I think slowly we've gotten a little bit better every game."

Why Sharks' Patrick Marleau expects nerves before SAP Center return

Why Sharks' Patrick Marleau expects nerves before SAP Center return

SAN JOSE -- Sure, even a seasoned veteran like Patrick Marleau had some jitters before he took the ice for his first game back with the Sharks on Thursday night in Chicago.

But that's nothing compared to how he's going to feel on Sunday when he takes the ice at SAP Center.

While meeting with the media on Saturday morning following practice, Marleau admitted that the nerves ahead of his first game back home as a Shark will be on another level.

"I expect it to be a lot the same [nerves as the first game on the road], maybe a little bit more with coming back in front of the fan base," Marleau said. "That adrenaline will be going again and they're going to help me out. Just as long as I keep my legs moving and go to the right spots, hopefully it will be fine."

Those pre-homecoming jitters haven't taken away from how happy the 40-year-old winger is to be playing hockey again. Even with one game back in teal under his belt, the delight of once again being in the fold hasn't worn off.

"The smile hasn't come off my face," he said. "To be able to come back here and walk into this locker room and see my name, it feels good to have somewhere to go and have somewhere to play. And to especially be back here."

It isn't just Marleau's teammates who are happy he's back in a Sharks jersey. No. 12 said he's also heard from former teammates who are happy he's found a home after missing the start of the season.

"The amount of text messages and phone calls I got, it was very humbling and overwhelming," he said. "I really appreciate all of the support that I've been getting. Now the work really starts and I'm really looking forward to it."

Marleau has already had a positive impact on the Sharks ahead of his return to the South Bay, registering two goals in San Jose's 5-4 victory over the Blackhawks. But the team will also be looking to him off the ice as a crop of rookie players gets more acclimated to playing in the NHL.

"Just happy to have another solid pro on the ice and in the room," head coach Peter DeBoer said. "He's going to be a great mentor to our young guys. Just the game he played the other night. How he created offense, he did it the right way."

All that's left now is for Marleau to take the SAP Center ice in his first game back with the Sharks.

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Speaking of taking the ice -- Marleau traditionally was the last player to skate out of the sharks' head during his previous tenure with the team, a role that was taken over by Marc-Edouard Vlasic after Marleau left for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Will No. 12 take back the honor of being the last Sharks player out on the ice?

"We had a little talk about it," Marleau said with a laugh. "He let me go out last last game, it was very nice of him."