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Tyler Kleven attempting to join exclusive UND club

The defenseman from Fargo has a chance to join Jonathan Toews as the only players in program history with two gold medals from the World Junior Championship.

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UND junior defenseman Tyler Kleven is playing in his second World Junior Championship.
Photo by Rena Laverty / USA Hockey's NTDP
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EDMONTON — Tyler Kleven hasn't had a normal World Junior Championship experience yet.

In December 2020, he was playing at the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod in Omaha when he got an unexpected phone call: A couple of players on the U.S. World Junior roster had tested positive for COVID-19 and couldn't play.

Kleven had just minutes to pack his bag and head to the Edmonton bubble.

Kleven played in the seventh defenseman role for most of the under-20 tournament, suiting up in two games and tallying an assist.

The Fargo product and his UND teammate, Jake Sanderson, came away with gold medals as the Americans beat Canada in the final.

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"I was pretty fortunate to get a chance to play for the team in 2021," Kleven said. "I didn't get a lot of playing time in that, but I took a lot of time to watch all the good players and I got a chance to play against them and work on little things. I think my skating got a lot better practicing with them. . . my decision-making, too. Playing against the top guys, you have to make really fast decisions. Playing against all these good players has definitely helped my game grow."

Now, Kleven is back at the World Juniors in another unconventional way.

The tournament, originally scheduled for December and January in Alberta, was moved to August after COVID-19 positive tests.

Kleven is again in Edmonton, now playing a much larger role for the Americans, who have started 2-0 with victories over Germany and Switzerland.

"Any time you get to wear the USA sweater, it's a really humbling experience," Kleven said. "I'm super excited to get another chance to win a gold medal."

This shot at a gold medal is also an opportunity to join some UND hockey history. Kleven is aiming to become just the second player in program history to win two World Junior Championship gold medals.

The other was Jonathan Toews, who won gold in 2006 and 2007 with Canada.

"That would be pretty special," Kleven said.

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The Americans are set to play two more pool play games. They will take on Austria at 1 p.m. Saturday and they'll finish with a game against Sweden at 9 p.m. Sunday.

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The quarterfinals are set for Wednesday. The semifinals will be played at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19. The medal games are scheduled for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20.

College hockey players usually have normal summer workout routines. But because Kleven had to be in game shape earlier to compete in the August World Juniors, he had to alter his summer pattern.

"A couple of workout plans changed," Kleven said. "I had to be in midseason shape in August rather than October — a couple months ahead. I was spending a little more time on the ice, getting conditioning in and all that stuff."

Kleven thinks that could pay off when UND's season begins in October with an exhibition against the University of Manitoba (Oct. 1) and a nonconference series against Holy Cross (Oct. 7-8).

"I think this will be a big help, going into the season in midseason form," Kleven said. "Having my decision-making and skating skills being worked on right now, I think that's a big help."

But for now, Kleven is aiming at gold and a spot next to Toews in UND's record book.

"I have a lot of confidence in this team," Kleven said. "I think we lost a couple of good guys (from the winter team), but other guys stepped up to the plate and we gained some good guys, too. It's a chance for others to show what they've got. All of our practices have gone really well. The first few games have gone well. We just have to keep the ball rolling."

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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