VANCOUVER - Team USA knocked over Russia 2-1 to punch a ticket to the gold medal game and the Americans did so with a pretty great team effort. Cayden Primeau (Montreal) put in a sturdy goaltending performance, Phil Kemp (Edmonton) saved a sure goal with a sweep of his stick and Sasha Chmelevski (San Jose) got the eventual game-winner, but it must have been nice for New York Islanders fans to see two of their draft picks connect on the opening goal.
Logan Cockerill and Oliver Wahlstrom are both wingers and Isles prospects. Their line, centered by Montreal pick Ryan Poehling, was very effective against Russia and helped what had to be an all-out effort against a very talented Russian squad.
“We all play hard and we understand each other,” Poehling said. “ ‘Cocky’ is one of the faster guys on the team, so for him to use his speed to get behind that defender, he made a great play to ‘Wally,’ who is a straight shooter - you give him the puck in that area and it’s in the back of the net. We’ve gelled pretty well together.”
Cockerill and Wahlstrom are both alums of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. Cockerill, a seventh-rounder from 2017, has certainly earned his way up the food chain. At the NTDP he was a depth guy — which can happen even to promising players, since the program attracts so much talent — but the speedy Michigan native had an impressive freshman season with Boston University last year and his quick, gritty game got him onto this year’s world junior squad.
Wahlstrom, on the other hand, was taken in the first round by New York in 2018 after lighting up the program as an elite sniper on the top line. He and Cockerill played together at the 2017 world under-18s when Wahlstrom was called up from the NTDP’s under-17 squad. Wahlstrom is now in his freshman season at rival Boston College, a fact Cockerill is willing to overlook...for now.
“You don’t think about it much when you’re here,” Cockerill said. “But it’s nice to have someone who can shoot the puck like that. You can feed him and get some assists.”
The pair have also spent time together at Islanders development camp, so the friendship is well on its way.
On top of the goal, the Cockerill-Poehling-Wahlstrom line just played some good, effective hockey against a Russian team that was not used to the speed and diligence that Team USA brought in the semifinal tilt. Of course, this is still Russia we’re talking about, so the Americans did not get comfortable, even with a lead.
“Far from it, actually,” Cockerill said. “It’s pretty nerve-wracking on the bench; you want to be out there helping and you’re sitting on the bench shaking, waiting for the clock to tick down. That was a long 20 minutes in the end.”
It’s been a pretty positive season for the Islanders organization, as predictions of doom and gloom have not come true. The NHL team is faring better than expected, while the franchise’s prospect pool is coming together quite nicely (that part is not surprising; they had a fantastic 2018 draft). Along with Wahlstrom, New York almost had their other 2018 first-rounder en route to the gold-medal game, but Canadian defenseman Noah Dobson’s stick blew up in overtime against Finland in the quarterfinal.
Nonetheless, there’s a lot to like about the Islanders’ future and if Cockerill and Wahlstrom can keep contributing to Team USA’s cause, they’ll have gold medals to add to their development experience.