America's history makers
by Andy POTTS|22 MAY 2024
Brock Nelson and Johnny Gaudreau after their history-making goals against Kazakhstan.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
Johnny Gaudreau and Brock Nelson are back together on the Team USA roster in Czechia. The pair have been rewriting history at the 2024 IIHF World Championship. Gaudreau overtook Patrick’s 42-point scoring haul for the Americans in IIHF play, while Nelson tied Bruce Mather’s 19 goals, a mark achieved 75 years ago.

But that’s only the latest chapter in a decade-long World Championship story for the duo.

2014 – joint debuts

The pair made their first World Championship appearance in Minsk in 2014. The impact was immediate, with both scoring on the host nation in the opening game. Nelson, aged 22 at the time, was first to show, converting the first power play of the game to put the USA up 1-0 midway through the first. Later, 20-year-old Gaudreau grabbed an international debut goal to match the marker he potted on his only (at the time) NHL appearance for Calgary.

Despite strong performances from our rising stars, the USA could not get past the quarter-final. Nelson had 7 (5+2) points, while the kid they called Johnny Hockey returned 10 (2+8). For Gaudreau, it was the culmination of a whirlwind season that saw him star for Boston College in the NCAA, score on his NHL debut and take on the world. “It is exciting. Every single time you step on the ice you and put on a pair of skates it is special,” he said at the time. “Not everyone gets the chance to play in tournaments like this or play in the NHL so you have to make the most of it. Just play my game.”

2015 – Bronze for Nelson in Czechia

This isn’t Brock Nelson’s first time in Ostrava. While Gaudreau’s Flames went to the playoffs, Nelson was part of the USA roster here in 2015. By now, he had quite a fan club, as observed after his goal in a 2-1 victory over Norway. The game recap noted:

Nelson’s goal, his second of the tournament, made some spectator look prophetic. In that upper corner of that end of the ice by the Norwegian zone, a simple sign was hung up during the game that said BROCK NELSON YOU’LL SCORE!!! GO USA GO!!!

And Nelson kept scoring. He ran at a point a game to top the USA for points. Six goals, four assists and, best of all, a bronze medal after defeating the Czechs in the third-place playoff.

2016 – Nelson airlifted in

Another year went by and Nelson’s Islanders came out in the second round of the playoffs. Having got the World Championship bug, Brock hopped a plane and went to Russia to help the USA. Even during the playoffs he was keeping tabs on the national team, where he’d grown into something of a veteran aged just 24.

"I watched a couple of games." Nelson said after his first game. "It’s a young team with a lot of skill. It’ll be a fun tournament. I think they’re getting better each game. You want to come over and do well."

2017 – the duo reunites

With neither the Islanders nor the Flames going far in the NHL, both players were back on international duty in Cologne. And both earned praise from America’s captain at the 2017 Worlds, Connor Murphy, as Team USA topped its group and Johnny le the scoring with 11 points.

After Gaudreau’s game-winning performance against Sweden, Murphy said: "I know what it is like playing against Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary. It is not easy to contain him. When those guys are able to use their skill and use the cutbacks on the big ice it is hard for anyone to defend."

And Murphy had this to say about his assistant Nelson and his contribution over repeated tournaments: "He's a skilled guy and he brings a lot to the national team. It might have been when we were in Prague, and he had some unbelievable plays. He's a natural player and a good team-mate. That's why we've had some success in the tournament, and Brock's been a big part of that."

Unfortunately for the Americans, a strong group stage came to nothing after a loss to Finland in the quarter-finals.

2018 – bronze for Gaudreau

Johnny Gaudreau in action for Team USA against Canada in the 2018 bronze medal game.
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation / Matt Zambonin
When the World went to Denmark, Gaudreau was there to help the USA to bronze. This year’s American team was dominated by Patrick Kane, who plundered 20 (8+12) points to lead the tournament in scoring. Gaudreau had nine points, tied with Germany’s Leon Draisaitl. Like the American, Draisaitl made his World Championship debut in 2014, where comparisons between the two were an on-going theme. With Kane running the show, this was a quieter tournament for Gaudreau, who picked up most of his points in the group stage. But a 4-1 win over Canada in the bronze medal game provided his first hardware at this event.

2019 – disappointment in Slovakia

Expectations were high for the USA in 2019. Kane was back after his powerful performance a year earlier, while in its preview picked out Gaudreau as “simple one of the best players in the world”. With the roster in Slovakia looking stronger than the previous year’s medal team, some felt this might be the year the Americans made it through the semis for the first time. Instead, disappointment. A 3-4 loss to Russia in the last eight ended the story. Gaudreau endured a frustrating time, playing six games for just two points.

2024 – records, and how much more?

Our duo is back together in Czechia once again, enjoying life on the most prolific team in the competition. The USA scored 39 goals in the preliminary round and Gaudreau is third in team scoring with 11 (3+8) points. Nelson has 7 (3+4) through the group stage. Those contributions have elevated their career totals to record-breaking levels – a tribute to great skill, but also genuine commitment to international hockey.
Nelson summed up why he keeps coming back to the World Championship after helping the USA to a big victory over Kazakhstan.

“I've been to a few of these tournaments now,” he said. “It's cool. I've been fortunate enough to play with some good guys over the years. 

“You want to win the Stanley Cup and be in the playoffs, but it doesn't always work out like that, and I've been lucky enough to come over here and represent my country. It means a lot. Any time you're able to put on the red, white, and blue, it's special.”