The preliminary round at the 2018 World Junior Championship in Buffalo came to a close on Sunday, and now the real fun begins.
The United States finished just behind Canada in Group A and will have a tougher road to the gold medal game if they hope to repeat as champions at the annual U-20 tournament. That road begins with a quarterfinal matchup against Russia on Tuesday night.
Heading into the contest, here's what you'll need to know.
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Well, for one, Team USA's chance to repeat as champions for the first time in tournament history. We're in the single-elimination stage of the tourney now, so the stakes are extremely high. The winner of USA-Russia will move on to face the winner of Sweden-Slovakia in the semifinals. Emotions typically run pretty high in these games, and Russia will be looking to avenge their semifinal loss to the Americans in last year's tournament.
The Americans had a rollercoaster opening round and finished with a 3-1 record. Their lone loss came in a shocking upset against Slovakia, but they quickly bounced back with a stunning comeback victory over Canada. The Americans also took down Denmark and Finland.
Meanwhile, the Russians finished the prelims 2-2, losing first to the Czech Republic in the tournament's opening game, then to Sweden (in a shootout) in the final preliminary game. They beat Switzerland and Belarus, the two bottom teams in Group B.
This is the first time that USA and Russia will meet this year.
The 2018 World Juniors medal round runs through this week, with the tournament concluding with medal games on Friday. Here's a complete rundown of the next wave of games:
USA forward Casey Mittelstadt (Buffalo Sabres) was the best player in the opening round of the tournament, leading all players with nine points (four goals, five assists) in the four preliminary games. The Americans' forward group was a little shaky as a whole, but they were carried by strong performances from their stars, and no star was brighter than Mittelstadt.
The 19-year-old Mittelstadt has excellent vision and creativity with the puck on his stick and he's great at creating space to help facilitate offense. Every now and then he can do it all by himself, too.