Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jerry D'Amigo: American Hero

Jerry D'Amigo takes a short moment to rest - thanks to Joe Yerdon for the picture.

At the outset of the World Junior Championships, it was merely an honor for Jerry D'Amigo to be playing for Team USA, representing his country in the biggest youth hockey tournament in the world. But now, Jerry's gone from something more than being a representative of his school, his league, and his country. He's turning heads. In a big way.

Jerry has been on a line with North Dakota's Danny Kristo and Wisconsin's Derek Stepan (who is also the team captain)
, and they may just be the most potent line in the entire tournament.

The WJC started the day after Christmas, and for the United States it meant a date with Slovakia, the team that had upset the Americans in the quarterfinals of last year's event. Things started out poorly for the US, giving up a pair of early goals on the penalty kill, but it was the Kristo-Stepan-D'Amigo line which would bring the US back into things. Jerry was instrumental in setting up Stepan's go-ahead goal in the 2nd period, was credited with an assist on Kristo's goal later in the period, and then nabbed a goal for himself in the 3rd as the Stars and Stripes took a 7-3 win. Jerry was named player of the game for the US.

A 3-0 win over Switzerland the next day made the Americans 2-0, but it was a bit of a clunker game for the US, and the KSD line didn't figure into the scoring. Two days later, Latvia didn't provide much of a challenge as the US stomped the Baltic country 12-1. Kristo and Stepan both had a pair of goals, and Jerry had two assists. That made the US 3-0 overall, the same as their final opponent for the group stage, Canada.

The WJC is the biggest international hockey event every year in Canada (except for an Olympic year, but it's still huge). The Canadians have won 5 gold medals in a row in this tournament. It's dissected as much in Canada as the NCAA basketball tournament is in the United States. To call the Canadians favorites in this tournament is a bit of an understatement. But it was against the Canadians that Jerry D'Amigo's star turn truly began.

After the Canadians took an early 1-0 lead, Jerry found Philip McRae with a well-timed pass to tie the game up. The Americans would score two shorthanded goals in the 2nd period to give Team USA a 3-2 lead during the 2nd intermission, the second of which came on D'Amigo's second assist of the night. Ultimately, it was not to be. While the US held a 4-3 lead late, they gave up a terrible shorthanded goal late in the 3rd to force overtime, and lost when Minnesota's Jordan Schroeder was unable to score in the shootout, giving Canada a pass to the medal round while the Americans had to tangle with Finland in the quarterfinals and face a difficult challenge in Sweden in the semis if they were able to get by the Finns.

Jerry's star has continued to grow as the games have gotten bigger. He had two goals against Finland to lead the Yanks to a 6-2 win, leading commentators to remark that he had been robbed when he wasn't named player of the game. Then, two nights ago in a semifinal game which saw the Americans as underdogs, Jerry broke out yet again.

The US led 1-0 after one period, but the Swedes would get a pair in the 2nd period to take a 2-1 lead. Then, during a 4-on-4, it was Jerry time. The Engineer freshman scored a timely goal not long after Sweden had taken the lead to assert that the United States was not going anywhere. After the US took the lead midway through the third period, it was Jerry D'Amigo and Derek Stepan who practically sealed the deal for the Stars and Stripes with a clutch shorthanded goal while the Swedes were looking to tie the game again. Stepan intercepted a bad clearance (a lot like Pirri's ill-advised clearance against Michigan State, actually), and brought Jerry with him. Jerry took the pass and blasted it into the net. An empty netter in the waning moments gave the US a 5-2 victory and booked a second date with Canada in tonight's gold medal game. For the second time in the tournament, Jerry D'Amigo was named player of the game.

The Sweden game especially is raising the murmurs about Jerry. In Toronto, where he was drafted in the sixth round of last year's draft, Leafs fans are now extremely excited about the "steal" that they got in Jerry D'Amigo. He's not just another prospect anymore. Brian Burke, who is the General Manager for both the Maple Leafs and USA Hockey, spoke glowingly about D'Amigo during the Sweden game on the NHL Network (even namedropping RPI). At present, the Twitter hashtag #jerrydamigoisanamericanhero has 87 search results. As of yesterday, typing "Jerry" into the search box at Google News would bring up "Jerry D'Amigo" as the fourth suggestion. That's all wildly impressive, of course, for a freshman at an engineering school in upstate New York.

So Jerry's not just representing RPI. He's leading his nation, hopefully to victory tonight in the gold medal game. He has 5 goals and 5 assists for the tournament, which is good enough for 4th overall. He trails only linemate Derek Stepan (3-9-12) and Canadians Jordan Eberle (first round pick of the Oilers in 2008, 6-5-11) and Alex Pietrangelo (who's already played in the NHL, 3-8-11).

I think I speak for every Engineers fan when I say this - we're all very proud of what Jerry has accomplished for his country, both in leading the U-18 team to gold in that world tournament last year and in leading the U-20 team to at the very least the silver in an even bigger tournament this year. It will be great to have him back this weekend in Hamden and Princeton, where he most certainly has already earned himself a hero's welcome.

Watch the gold medal game tonight live on NHL Network at 8pm.

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