THE CANADIAN PRESS
HELSINKI, Finland — Max Pacioretty felt he had something to prove.
The American forward came to the IIHF World Hockey Championship intent on making a lasting memory, preferably one that would overwrite any bad thoughts left over from the 2008 world junior tournament.
"I hope to get that image out of my head for international hockey," Pacioretty said Wednesday.
The 23-year-old has definitely put his best foot forward with 12 points over the opening seven games, continuing the fine play that saw him take a major step forward with the Montreal Canadiens this season.
One of the keys behind his success lies in that previous international experience from the Czech Republic. Pacioretty was held without a point in six games at the world junior tournament and a good U.S. team fell short of a medal.
It’s something that has stuck with him to this day.
"I’ve only played one other time for USA Hockey and that was world juniors, I had a rough tournament," said Pacioretty. "I came here with motivation to prove to people that I can play at the international level."
He and his American teammates have the chance to do something special in Helsinki. They face host Finland in Thursday’s quarter-final game — a team the U.S. completely dismantled 5-0 in the round robin — and would guarantee themselves the chance to play for a medal if they can win it.
In the last 40 years, the Americans have won just two bronzes at this tournament.
Pacioretty is aware of the history but cautioned against looking past the Finns, who will have the support of a sellout crowd at Hartwall Arena.
"We know we’re playing a completely different team (than in the round robin)," said Pacioretty. "We’ve almost got to throw away that game tape because we know they’re going to come out much hungrier and give it the best 60 minutes that they have. We’re not expecting the same type of game."
There’s been very little to suggest the transition to the larger international ice surface has been difficult for the six-foot-two Habs winger.
Pacioretty feels as though he’s found himself around the perimetre of the offensive zone more — he’s looking to do a better job of driving to the net — but U.S. coach Scott Gordon is happy with his game. In fact, Gordon believes the extra room is an advantage for someone so strong on the puck.
"He can skate and he’s got good puck skills," said Gordon. "To be able to get that extra room down low when you’re already good down low (is beneficial). He’s got himself to the net and put himself in position to retrieve pucks."
It’s made Pacioretty one of the very best players in a tournament that features a number of NHL stars.
The Connecticut native seems comfortable in that exclusive company, especially after scoring a career-best 33 goals and 65 points in Montreal this season. Even Pacioretty marvels at how well things have gone for him.
"For a personal year for me, it’s been great," he said. "People ask me if I ever thought it would happen, but I try to take things one day at a time and try to get better every day."