Kyle Palmieri played only one season at Notre Dame, but that experience under the tutelage of Jeff Jackson helped him parlay his skills into the professional ranks as well as help lead the United States with two victories in the first two games of the 2011 World Junior Championship.
“It goes a long way,” Palmieri said of his college experience, which included nine goals and 17 points in 33 games last season. “Just the maturity of my game. Coach Jackson helped me out a lot, focused on rounding out my game. Playing as a complete player is one of the things he really focused on. That went a long way in making the transition to pro hockey. I think so far it made that transition a little easier. Hopefully, going forward my time at Notre Dame will go a long way.”
Even though Palmieri did not get a point in the Americans’ first game against Finland, he wowed the crowd with his dazzling plays. Even the Canadian fans, with their anti-American rooting interests, were pulled out of their seats. Twice, he pulled a between-the-skates move to beat the defense and go in alone against the goaltender. However, a wide shot and a great save by the goaltender prevented him from finishing the play.
“It’s one of those things you kind of mess around with [in practice],” Palmieri said. “It was one of those times I got an opportunity to use it.”
Despite the key 3-2 win over Finland, it came in overtime, thus giving the Americans two points in the standings instead of three points for a regulation victory. Therefore, the next game against Slovakia was a key contest, especially with two talented forwards out with injuries. Team USA and especially Palmieri’s line, came out flying.
“The team was a little bit shaken up because of the injuries, but we knew we needed to get out there and get a good start,” Palmieri said. “Those first five minutes, we came out here and dominated the play.”
Dominate is an understatement. USA outshot Slovakia in the first period, 22-1. Palmieri scored twice in the first eight minutes. The first came on a cross-crease pass from Boston University’s Charlie Coyle as Palmieri crashed the net to redirect it in.
The next came from an impossible angle during a major power play. Nearly on the goal line off to the right side, he somehow squeezed it through an out-of-position goaltender and the near post.
After a couple of near misses that would have resulted in a natural hat trick in the first period, Palmieri assisted on a Coyle goal early in the second, also on the power play.
“It’s pretty good,” Coyle said of playing on the same line. “Each game, each day, we start clicking more and more. He knows how to play. He’s been at the top level before. I’m fortunate enough to be with him on the line. I’m fortunate enough that we’re clicking and have the chemistry we have right now.”
Needless to say, Palmieri was named the Americans’ player of the game in a 6-1 victory.
“Kyle has been terrific for us,” said Team USA coach Keith Allain, also the coach at Yale. “He’s given us what we hoped he’d give us. Obviously, he put us on the right foot by scoring two goals in the first period. But he’s also been good on the other side of the puck as well.”
“I was fortunate enough to get a couple,” Palmieri said. “My linemates were playing well, supporting me really well. We got fortunate enough to draw a couple of penalties by using our speed. We carried that momentum throughout the game. With the chemistry I have with my line going tonight, going forward, hopefully we can keep up that momentum, keep up that chemistry.”
Two more games remain in the preliminary round for the U.S. — versus Germany on Thursday and Switzerland on Friday. If the Americans win both in regulation, they’ll be guaranteed of the top spot in the group and a bye to the semifinals.
After the tournament is over, Palmieri will drive 2½ hours east on the New York State Thruway to rejoin the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. First, he plans on continuing to use his experience at Notre Dame and what he learned from Jackson to help lead Team USA to a second consecutive gold medal.
When teammates clash
In the Americans’ first game of the tournament, Nick Bjugstad took the opening faceoff as the center Team USA’s top line. Across from him as the center for Finland’s top line was a familiar face — Erik Haula, his teammate at Minnesota.
“We got to line up against each other quit a bit, taking faceoffs together,” Bjugstad said with a laugh. “He gave me a little chirp there, but we are good buds. That was fun playing against him. He had a good game. Finland played well, and I got to match up against him on faceoffs.”
“It was awesome,” Haula said with a chuckle. “It was a great experience. We had a couple of laughs on the ice. I tripped him a couple of times when I knocked him on his butt. It’s fun to play against your teammates. I’m sure it was a great experience for the both of us, and it’s going to benefit us going back to Minnesota.”
Bjugstad, the nephew of 1984 U.S. Olympian and former NHLer Scott Bjugstad, scored the winning goal against his friend’s team in overtime. He also picked up an assist against Slovakia. Haula, the only collegiate on Finland, registered an assist in each of his first two games.