BUFFALO, N.Y. — When you assemble a team for the World Junior Championship, you are essentially picking the best of the best.
This means the players are stars and top liners on whatever teams they are coming from.
However, no matter the makeup, a hockey team still has four lines. So somebody — actually three somebodies — has to be a fourth liner.
For Trent Frederic, he was one of those somebodies. Of course, fourth liners on a team like this can still score.
And Frederic can score.
Team USA looked to rebound from their semifinal loss to take the bronze medal. Frederic helped them do that by scoring no less than four times as USA blew out the Czech Republic 9-3 Friday night.
“He was awesome today,” USA coach Bob Motzko said in perhaps the understatement of the day. “We saw that he could shoot a hockey puck.”
Fans at Wisconsin know all about Frederic’s scoring prowess. In a year and a half there, he has 23 goals and 26 assists for 49 points in 51 games. He was second in team points last year and currently sits second this year. He was the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year in 2016-17.
When the tournament started, Team USA carried 13 forwards, and Frederic was actually the 13th forward on the depth chart.
Injuries, however, pushed Frederic up to the fourth line, a line that consisted of only two players.
Motzko explained: “We’re playing 11 forwards and we had to keep four centers. If he was a fourth-line center, maybe by the sheet, he was more important to us then calling him a fourth line center. But we had to use him at killing penalties. I know he didn’t get out on a lot of the power plays. But he needed to be a big strong, heavy center for us.”
The first-round selection of the Boston Bruins (30th overall) didn’t just kill penalties Friday. He scored on a shorthanded breakaway with 3.4 seconds left in the first period to start things off for USA. He also scored on a power play, along with two even-strength goals, including one which showed off that shot Motzko mentioned.
But how did the St. Louis native initially respond to being a fourth liner?
“How he handled it? He was great,” Motzko said. “He had a positive attitude. He was a leader on our team. I’ll take him any day of the week. He’s a terrific young man.”
Frederic said, “Just playing my role in whatever they tell me to do. Play my best. You’re playing for the USA, so it doesn’t matter what line you are on.”
As for scoring four goals, Frederic said, “It feels good. Just having fun out there.”
Frederic will now return to Wisconsin. Another unique aspect of a national team like this, is one day, you are playing with friends, the next day, they are your enemies. Six of his teammates are from Big Ten opponents.
“It’s kind of weird,” Frederic acknowledged. “You’re friends with them, but you still give them a tap on the shin guards at the appropriate time in the games. Pretty funny, but we’re friends.”
Team USA won its third consecutive World Junior Championship medal for the first time ever. Last year, they won gold in Montreal. The year before that, it was bronze in Helsinki.
“I think it says a great deal,” Motzko said. “Three in three years, five in 10 years. These medals are very, very hard to get. USA Hockey is in a great spot. The players that are coming forward in the future, there’s expectations now. They’re not climbing a mountain. The people before them did that.”
Kieffer Bellows, who played one year for Boston University before deciding to leave for the WHL, broke Jeremy Roenick’s American record for most goals in a single tournament with nine. He tied the record on a penalty shot in the second period.
“I take a lot of pride in being a USA hockey player,” he said.
Casey Mittelstadt (Minnesota) was named MVP of the tournament.