The Wizard of Pass
by Andrew Podnieks|01 JAN 2020
Team USA's Trevor Zegras has been logging nine assists in four games at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: Andrea Cardin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Hockey games are won by the team that scores the most goals. That means goals are, by definition, the most important part of a game. Yet American forward Trevor Zegras not only does not have a goal in this U20 tournament to date, he actually doesn’t care and doesn’t even seem to want to score!
“I don’t know what it’s like to score a goal anyway – assists are the best thing in the world for me,” he joked, sort-of, after recording two more gems of helpers in a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over the Czech Republic on Monday night. “There’s just something about it that I really like.”
Zegras has only seven shots on goal in four games. He hasn’t scored once, but leads the tournament in scoring with nine points. Nine assists. He is trying to do something no player has done at the top level of an IIHF tournament – lead an event in scoring without, well, scoring!
Zegras comes from another land. Most players come from Scoresville, but he is a native of Passerton, and as such he sees the game not as a reason for scoring but as a sport of passing.
Those two assists against the Czechs were ridiculous. On the first one, he was cutting across the middle of the ice in the Czech zone when he was tripped. The referee put his arm up to signal a penalty, but as Zegras fell he maintained control of the puck. Sliding on the ice, his back to the net, he spotted linemate Arthur Kaliyev, the king of the one-timer, and somehow fed him a perfect pass. Kaliyev roofed a shot so quickly that even though the referee was standing in that corner of the ice, he waived the goal off. Video review had to confirm the shot.
“He’s an absolute sniper,” Zegras said of one of his favourite targets. “Doesn’t talk a lot, but he knows how to put the puck in the net. Whenever we’ve played together it seems we have pretty good chemistry, so it’s always a pleasure.”
It was a thing of beauty, and even after the game was not appreciated as it should have been. But that was because of his second pass. You have to work this out in your mind to understand it. He got the puck in the right corner and turned to face the middle of the ice. The left-handed shot saw teammate Jack Drury go to the slot, but Zegras didn’t fire a pass right then. Instead, he twirled to the corner and whipped a backhand pass in motion to Drury, who one-timed the shot for a goal. Drury immediately pointed to Zegras to acknowledge the world-class assist. Even Zegras was happy with that one.
“He makes so many special plays every game, and little touch passes,” Drury enthused. “He’s a phenomenal player. I was just driving to the net thinking I’d get a rebound, and I looked down and the puck was on my stick. It’s incredible. Even in practice he makes incredible plays. He’s a great skater, great hands.”
“That’s one of the coolest ones I’ve ever had,” Zegras admitted after the game, “because of the setting. And, me and Drury are roommates, so that was pretty cool.”
When pressed on an NHL comparison, Zegras said: “Maybe it was like a Patrick Kane pass, I don’t know. He was my favourite player growing up. I’ve probably seen every goal and assist he’s had in his career.”
Through the four games of the preliminary round the Americans have scored 17 goals. Zegras has set up nine of those. Kaliyev has four goals in the tournament – all were assisted by number 9, Zegras. Four other players on the team have exactly one goal so far – Jordan Harris, Zac Jones, Curtis Hall, and Drury. All of their goals were set up by Zegras. Only Shane Pinto has some non-Zegras goals to his name among Trevor’s helpers.
Still, somewhere along the way, you’d think Zegras will get a goal to go with all his assists. He doesn’t care, but Drury has faith: “He’ll score eventually, but he’s a great passer. If you can get open, he’ll find you.”
That’s all that matters to USA’s number 9.