There was a time when Carter Mazur and Redmond Savage hated each other.
But that was before Mazur, a Jackson native, and Savage, who was born in Arizona but moved to Michigan when he was in the eighth grade, were both selected as middle-round draft picks by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2021 NHL Draft.
And it was also before the two would represent Team USA at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championships, which started in Edmonton on Aug. 9 and concludes Aug. 20.
“Carter and I used to have some battles in our U15, U16 years; our teams were pretty big rivals. I was on Compuware and he was on Little Caesars,” Savage told The Detroit News.
“Mr. (Kris) Draper was coaching their team and Kienan (Draper, a fellow Red Wings prospect) was on that team. We had a pretty stacked team ourselves … and it got pretty heated a lot of the times, so I actually grew up hating (Mazur). But now that he’s on my team, I’m a pretty big fan of him.”
In case anybody forgot, the last time medals were handed out at the World Junior Championships, Team USA took gold.
It feels like quite some time ago now — the original 2022 tournament, which is held over New Years, was canceled after several teams suffered COVID-19 outbreaks — but yes, the Americans are still, in fact, defending tournament champs, doing so in the early days of 2021 by pulling off an upset in the final over what many deemed to be the best Canadian team of all time.
But now? As Team USA is aiming to win back-to-back gold medals for the first time ever?
“I feel like a lot of people don’t even have us medaling in this tournament, which is kind of absurd,” Mazur said.
The validity of that claim is up for debate: Team USA was pegged with the third-best odds to win the whole thing through a number of sportsbooks ahead of the tournament.
And if there were doubters of Team USA before the tournament, there’s a good chance that most of them have disappeared now that the Americans’ have gone a perfect 4-0 with a plus-18 goal differential through the group stage after dismantling Sweden, 3-2, on Sunday night.
But Mazur’s comment does reflect an underdog mindset; one that propelled the United States past Canada in the 2021 tournament and one that both he and Savage clearly possess.
After being passed on entirely in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, and then going in the third round as an over-ager in 2021, Mazur is having the best year of his career. He won an NCAA national title with Denver this past spring and was also named National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s Rookie of the Year award with 14 goals and 24 assists in 41 games.
Heading into Team USA’s elimination round slate, which begins Wednesday, Mazur is in the midst of announcing himself to the hockey world. He’s tied for fifth in points (four goals, two assists) among all players in the tournament.
Who would have thought? Mazur would.
“Yeah, I honestly did,” Mazur said when asked if he’d thought following the 2020 draft, when he went undrafted through seven rounds, that he’d ever get the opportunity to play on this stage.
“Once (I was drafted) it felt like my confidence sorta jumped through the roof and I started finally coming together and believing in my game and know what I could do. So I felt like once that all came together, that I had a really good shot to make this team in the winter.”
Savage, on the other hand, as been less productive, but only slightly. His hard-nosed game shows up less on the scoresheet than others, but with two goals and an assist, he’s also getting onto the radar of hockey fans.
“It’s a hard team to make, but I’ve always been confident in my abilities,” Savage said. “It was definitely something that I had to really work towards, and it was definitely always a big goal of mine to make this team.”
There are two games standing in between Team USA and another appearance in the tournament final.
While anything short of gold will be a disappointment, the Americans have provided plenty of positive news from a Red Wings standpoint: Mazur and Savage are officially on the map — and even though competing in Metro Detroit once spurred a brief hatred between them, they’ve both shown there’s plenty to love about their chances of returning as pros.