Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Joseph Woll ticked a pair of items off of his bucket list with his first World Juniors start and win on Wednesday night. Up next: A gold medal, an NCAA Frozen Four title, and an entry-level contract with the team that selected him 62nd overall in the 2016 NHL Draft.
It’s a major milestone, and one of the biggest since he was drafted.
“A million things were going through my mind (on draft day),” Woll, who grew up a St. Louis Blues fan, said. “You go from thinking about nothing to thinking about everything. Your whole future is hopefully with the Maple Leafs and to meet the staff and be welcomed to the organization is a day I’ll never forget.”
Last year, Woll led Team USA to a bronze medal at Under-18 World with the best save percentage (.947) in the tournament. The year before, he won silver at Under-17 Worlds. A gold in 2017 would help complete the trifecta.
This isn’t Woll’s last chance at World Juniors supremacy, though. Due to his July 12, 1998 birthday, Woll is eligible to play for Team USA at next year’s World Juniors in Buffalo, when the United States hosts the tournament for the sixth time.
So far this season, the Boston College freshman has a .917 save percentage in 17 games after posting a .918 a year ago with USA Hockey’s under-18 program. He’s one of only six under-19 goalies in the NCAA’s top division this year, alongside teammate and early Team USA healthy scratch Jake Oettinger.
In Team USA’s opener against Latvia, London Knights goaltender and Calgary Flames prospect Tyler Parsons got the start, surrendering one goal on 12 shots (.917SV%).
In pre-tournament action, Woll closed out Team USA’s schedule with a 23-save shutout in a 4-0 win over the Czech Republic.
On Wednesday, it was the Toronto third rounder’s turn. And Woll, a 6-3, 203-pound goalie, didn’t disappoint.
“It was a pretty special experience, anytime you can play in the World Juniors is special, especially to be able to play it at the Air Canada Centre and having that first experience playing here was something I’ll never forget,” he said after his debut. “Just thinking, maybe one day I could be walking through this building later on, it gives me something to work towards.”
After making a number of big saves early, including a 2-on-1 stop on Slovak forward Milos Roman, Woll surrendered his first goal of the tournament on a backdoor tap-in to 2018 NHL Draft prospect Martin Fehervary.
In the second period, with Team USA up 4-1, Woll made a stretched-pad save to preserve the three-goal lead, his lone tough save of the period.
“I was just trying not to fall asleep back there and keep my body engaged,” he said, laughing.
In the final minute of the game, Woll surrendered his second goal of the game on a floating point shot from Michal Roman.
“One of our guys got a stick on it and gave it a little deflection I think,” he said. “It sucks I got that last minute goal but it is what it is and I’m happy with my game in the end.”
Woll made 18 of 20 saves in his debut, a 5-2 win.
“It was special,” he said. “Watching the Canada game against Russia, I got a sense of the fans and how passionate they are. It was really cool.”
Woll and Jeremy Bracco, another Leafs prospect, have talked on and off about the chance to play together for the Leafs.
The Leafs, for their part, have had a hands-off approach with Woll so far in his young career.
“They (the Leafs) are just letting me relax and focus on Boston College and Team USA,” Woll said. “They’re really doing a great job supporting me and just letting me play my game and giving advice along the way.”
“Im going to try and take that job and lead Team USA to a gold medal,” Woll added, pointing to Carey Price’s “don’t be outworked” motto.
Moving forward, he’s unsure when he will turn pro, and focuses instead on his game and his schooling — he’s studying business. Boston College alum Thatcher Demko recently turned pro after his third season, joining the Vancouver Canucks organization in Utica. Woll plans on sitting down at the end of each NCAA season to assess where he feels he’s at.
For now, he doesn’t know who will be the starter. But his coach is impressed.
“I though Woll was excellent in his exhibition game and I thought he was real strong, especially in the first period, tonight,” Team USA head coach Bob Motzko said after the win. “I thought he was excellent.”