Team USA forward Kieffer Bellows with a scoring chance against Canadian goalie Carter Hart. Photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
The forward leads all players with six goals
Last season Kieffer Bellows made a decision to leave Boston University to join the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks.
It’s a decision paying dividends for the 19-year-old as he looks to help the U.S. win gold at the IIHF World Junior Championship.
Bellows, a New York Islanders first-round pick, scored seven goals and 14 points with the Terriers in 34 games last season. This season, his first in the WHL, he’s already netted 19 goals and 40 points in 31 games.
“I think just my two-way game has improved, my defensive zone (play) has improved a lot and my skating has gotten a lot better,” Bellows said of the move. “Mike (Johnston) just really promotes transition hockey from defence to offence right away and I think that’s really helped me in this tournament.”
The six-foot-one, 200-pound forward believes his game has benefitted the most from the lengthier schedule provided in the WHL.
“Playing in the WHL this year has been awesome,” Bellows said. “Mike Johnston and the rest of the coaching staff have really helped me improve my game a lot. I’m playing with great guys in my line mates Cody Glass (and) Skyler McKenzie have been great. Just playing all those games is great. I think before I came here I played 31 games and it’s been fantastic, that’s really helped my game skyrocket to a new level.”
Bellows’ offence has helped the Americans at this year’s World Juniors. The Edina, Minnesota native scored twice, including the game winner, in Tuesday’s 4-2 quarterfinals win over the Russians.
With the game tied 2-2, and 7:29 to play in the third, Bellows stepped into a rolling puck and beat Vladislav Sukhachyov blocker-side for his tournament-leading sixth goal.
“I had a thought in my head about where I wanted to put it and I’ve obviously practised that before,” he said. “I practise pucks that are rolling, that are bouncing. It’s good to practise that and it applied (in the game).”
In the Dec. 29 outdoor game at New Era Field against the Canadians, Bellows also scored twice, including the shootout winner, as the Americans battled from behind to win 4-3.
Despite his knack for scoring key goals in big games, Bellows doesn’t believe he’s clutch, but that his preparation puts him in the right spots on the ice.
“I think I’m just playing simple hockey and good things will come when you’re keeping it simple,” said Bellows. “I think that’s the best thing that’s going on with me right now.
“I think for everyone it’s not hard to get up for big games and get going, especially against Russia, a team that we played last year in the semifinals. They’re always going to be a good opponent and I think if we keep our game simple like we did today, then good things will come.”
Bellows teammates have taken notice of his ability to step up when it matters most.
“His work ethic’s been consistent, whether he’s scoring or not,” said American captain Joey Anderson. “I think he’s creating chances and doing the most with the opportunities he’s given. I think that’s something about him that’s very evident. Everyone can see the amazing shot he has.”
At last year’s tournament Bellows scored two goals and an assist as the Americans captured gold for the third time in eight years. As they look to win gold for the first time in back-to-back tournaments, Bellows is embracing a different role with the team.
“Just outside the rink and on the bench I feel I’ve taken on a bigger role just helping guys out that haven’t been here before, especially in these tight games and games where we might be down,” said Bellows. “Some guys haven’t been through this before so I think that’s nice.”