Jake Sanderson had been glancing at the clock every 10 seconds.
It was ticking toward zero and World Junior Championship gold. But the UND freshman defenseman reset and told himself not to worry about the clock.
"There was a moment where there was a big scrum in our zone," Sanderson said. "I didn't want to look up at the clock. I wanted to keep my head down, keep focused. I didn't want to glance up."
Sanderson kept his poise and helped the Americans seal the 2-0 win over Canada in the gold-medal game of the World Junior Championship.
"It was nerve-wracking at the end of both games," Sanderson said of the semifinals and championship. "Obviously, it was super exciting to win them."
Sanderson and Tyler Kleven became UND's 13th and 14th World Junior gold medalists in program history by winning the world under-20 event, joining two current team members: head coach Brad Berry and junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker.
It was extra special for Sanderson and Kleven, who were supposed to play in the World Under-18 tournament in April, only to have it canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I did think about that a lot," Sanderson said of missing out on the U18s. "That was super heartbreaking at the time. I put the World Juniors in my calendar in my phone, because I knew that was going to be the next time I'd have a chance to be with the USA Hockey guys again. Winning the World Juniors was super special with that group."
Sanderson played big minutes for the U.S. team. Only two others on the squad played more than he did. Sanderson registered two assists -- including one on the game-winning goal with 1:16 left in the semis. Kleven played in two of the seven games, registering one assist.
Both of them experienced two different bubble-like setups in December and January.
First, they spent a week in Omaha at the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod, helping the Fighting Hawks to a 3-0 record in those games. Then, they went to Edmonton, where the NHL held its Stanley Cup Playoffs over the summer, and helped the U.S. win gold.
"It was pretty cool, just being in the bubble in Edmonton and getting to see what the NHL guys did, because I was watching all of those games," Sanderson said. "I was always thinking what the bubble would be like. Being there and having the experience they did was special. And I love international tournaments. They're always super cool, just playing other countries and seeing all the really good talent across the world."
Sanderson said the two bubble setups were different. In Edmonton, the IIHF required all players to wear tracking devices around their necks to make sure they never left the bubble. They were tested whenever they went to the rink.
"I really enjoyed the Omaha bubble," Sanderson said. "I also really enjoyed the Edmonton bubble."
Sanderson and Kleven returned to Grand Forks on Thursday and flew to Colorado Springs on Saturday to play a two-game series against Colorado College at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday.
"I missed the guys a lot," Sanderson said. "I pretty much watched all the games when I was gone. I was cheering them on when I was in Michigan (at the pre-tournament camp) and in Edmonton. I'm happy to be back, sleeping in my own bed in the dorms and getting to see the guys at the rink every day."