While freshman forward Oliver Wahlstrom was in British Columbia for the 2019 World Junior Championship, Boston College men’s hockey was limping to three consecutive losses to start the back half of its schedule. Head coach Jerry York and the Eagles are likely hoping the return of Wahlstrom, who registered four points in seven games to help guide the United States Junior National Team to a silver medal, can help turn that around.
Wahlstrom played a key part in helping his country to the final against Finland as he scored the opening goal against Russia in the semifinals—one of four points for the forward during the tournament. He finished averaging nearly 13 minutes of ice time per game while playing on a line alongside St. Cloud State’s Ryan Poehling and Boston University’s Ryan Cockerill.
He made the final round of cuts on Dec. 23 when general manager John Vanbiesbrouck let six players go to round out the team’s final 23-man roster. Wahlstrom played in the previous two Under-18 World Championships, lifting the U.S. to gold in 2017 and silver in 2018. He had 14 points in 14 combined games between the two competitions, so there was reason to expect to see his name on the scoresheet even though the level of play was increasing.
The team initially held camp in Everett, Wash., before driving to Kamloops, B.C., and eventually opening tournament play the day after Christmas. There, the U.S. skated to a 2-1 win over Slovakia, as Wahlstrom peppered the net with six shots to no avail. The preliminary stages wrapped up with an 8-2 win over Kazakhstan, a heartbreaking 5-4 overtime defeat to Sweden, and a 4-1 victory over Finland. Wahlstrom needed just under two minutes against Kazakhstan to score his first goal of the tournament on a wrist shot that found the top left corner of the net.
He built off his first goal the next time out against the Swedes, chipping in two assists in the narrow one-goal loss. Wahlstrom nearly scored with time winding down in the second period, but his backhanded shot on a drive to the net clanged off the crossbar and out. He made up for it with consecutive assists, though, finding Poehling twice—first on a backdoor redirection and the second when the puck kicked off his skate for an easy tap-in.
The U.S. rolled past the Czech Republic, 3-1, in the quarterfinals to set up a date with Russia—which had won its group, despite having to battle the hosts in Canada. Wahlstrom scored with 5:31 left in first period to give his team an early 1-0 lead, one-timing a pass in the slot.
They held on the rest of the way, fighting off a resilient Russian side, to set up a rematch with Finland in the gold medal game. Wahlstrom appeared to have an early goal midway through the first period, slicing in to tuck home a rebound, but it was called off by the referees—much to the chagrin of head coach Mike Hastings—because teammate Sasha Chmelevski was ruled as being in the crease. A back-and-forth game ensued with the U.S. eventually knotting it up at two apiece with 11 minutes left. It wasn’t in the cards, though, as Finland score the game-winner with under two minutes left on the clock to claim the gold medal.
Wahlstrom had one particular play that will likely haunt him. A minute before teammate Josh Norris found the equalizer in the third period, Wahlstrom was left all alone on the weak side of the net. Defenseman Quinn Hughes sent a cross-ice pass to him, but he botched a wide-open one-timer and failed to equalize. It was an especially tough mistake, seeing as he’d missed a eerily similar shot against Finland back in the 2018 U-18 final—a game in which the U.S. lost.
Still, the Americans medaled for the fourth year in a row—taking bronze in 2016 and 2018 while winning it all in 2017—and Wahlstrom played a key part in that. He was on one of the team’s best lines, with Poehling earning Tournament MVP, Best Forward, and Media All-Star Team honors. Wahlstrom seemed to be playing at a higher level than he has during his 14-game tenure on the Heights. With the Eagles, he’s scored four goals and added an assist—far from the production many expected the NHL’s No. 11 overall pick to bring. Perhaps a silver medal and strong national team showing will be enough to find that second gear that York and BC so desperately need.
Featured Image by Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP