John Vanbiesbrouck is no stranger to representing USA Hockey on an international level. Throughout his playing career, Vanbiesbrouck represented the United States on the international stage nine times, including the 1998 Olympic Winter Games.
Since joining the USA Hockey national office staff in 2018, Vanbiesbrouck has played a leading role in determining which rising players get to experience the honor of representing their country.
As assistant executive director of hockey operations, one of Vanbiesbrouck’s assignments is also serving as U.S. National Junior Team general manager. That involves overseeing the evaluation of the player pool, and, ultimately, the selection of the roster for the IIHF World Junior Championship, a process that he and staff are thinking about year-round, not just in December prior to the tournament.
“As far as the selection process goes, the good thing is we have a country full of great players,” said Vanbiesbrouck, who first played for Team USA in the 1982 and 1983 World Junior Championship. “We’re not at a loss for candidates for a team.”
Vanbiesbrouck, a U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer and the winner of 374 games in his 20-year National Hockey League career, discussed the World Junior Championship roster selection process with us in a recent interview.
Q: This is your second year as GM of the U.S. National Junior Team. Did you learn anything from that first year that might impact your approach the second time around?
A: Of course. You learn a ton going through these processes — working with people, our coaches, our staff — on what our needs are. It’s not just a selection process of players. It’s a selection process of coaches and making sure that we’re meeting all the needs of how we need to execute. When we get into a tournament, preparation is what matters the most. You have to have a good setup.
The World Junior Summer Showcase each summer really helps us. We can play a few international games and then, we go into our longer process where players go back and play for their designated college or junior teams, then we regroup again as we get to mid-December. So, our process is a good one. I learned a ton and continue to learn.
Q: Now that the World Junior Summer Showcase is complete, how do you go about continuing your evaluation process while players are in their college and junior seasons?
A: First off, it is an evaluation process where a lot of it has to do with being up to speed on where players are and their condition. Whether they are healthy or not is a big factor. This year, we have a couple of eligible players who are playing professionally. We have to see if they’re going to be available if they’re playing in the American Hockey League at that time.
From there, we go out and watch games. We have a staff of people that assist me in doing so. It’s more than just grading how they’re playing. It’s how they’re going to be used for tournament play, which can be a lot different than evaluating and NHL Draft prospect. We’re looking at how we can win a tournament.
This year, the tournament will be played on an Olympic-sized ice in the Czech Republic, which is larger than what you see in the NHL. It becomes a little unique to be looking at how guys play on big ice, defenders being able to skate the puck out of the zone and move the puck out of the zone, and goaltenders, as well, who will be maybe a little bit better on the big ice and handling the angles a little bit differently.
Q: Can you explain how any positives or negatives you might have seen in the summer can change between now and December? And, is that a thought or concept you have shared with players who hope to be candidates?
A: One of the details with how things change from the summer is that we had four or five injured players that didn’t participate. We have to understand that and identify that early to see if they’re still candidates for the team down the road.
With that comes, for the two birthyears we’re looking at, the ‘01s are just getting into college and a few are in major juniors. The college jump is pretty big. Then, we see how they’re being used with their college team. Those details help us evaluate a little bit more.
Q: Can you explain the difference on the professionals, Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee, now that they are playing in the American Hockey League, what differences does that create for you?
A: If they’re playing in the NHL, they won’t be available to us. If they’re playing in the American Hockey League, it is likely they’ll be released to play in the tournament. I have to talk to both clubs, follow up with both clubs — the Islanders for Wahlstrom and the Flyers for Farabee — and make sure we’re on the same track.
It looks like both players are first call-ups for their teams. That comes into play along with how the team is managing what’s in their realm. You can’t just assume because they’re both signed pro players.
In my short time being involved, I remember talking to [late U.S. Olympic team general manager] Jim Johannson about this — rarely did we have a player come back from the American Hockey League and play on our World Junior team.
Q: How much do you have to incorporate contingency plans into your thinking on potential availability of players? When you’re setting that roster are you doing it with certain other options in mind if things don’t work out the way you’re anticipating?
A: This year is a good example of that versus last year. We traveled with extra players to our pre-camp, then we made some selections before we got into our two exhibition games prior to the tournament.
This year, we’re going to keep extra players as we travel internationally, then make our selections likely after our final pre-tournament game on December 23rd. When you travel overseas, you want to have more bodies, just from sickness and other things that can happen.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.