The International Olympic Committee held the first Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012 to inspire young people to adopt the Olympic values of excellence, respect and friendship through sports. Athletes from around the world ages 14-18 compete in various sports, including hockey. They also participate in seminars designed to teach them skill development, healthy living and other important qualities.
The U.S. Youth Olympic Team finished fourth in the inaugural 2012 Games, held in Innsbruck, Austria. The Americans then captured gold at the 2016 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, defeating Canada 5-2 in the gold-medal game to finish 5-0-0-1.
“The opportunity for young athletes to participate in an Olympic event, this being the youth version, is outstanding,” said Team USA head coach Scott Paluch, who also coached the gold medal-winning team in 2016. “They encourage athlete interaction and education. Players have earned their opportunity through athletic performance, and they get to be part of the whole experience, which is special.”
The 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games began Jan. 9 and will run through Jan. 22 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Unlike the 2016 Games, which held all sports from start to finish, this year’s event is divided up into two parts, or waves, with specific sports in each wave. The U.S. Youth Olympic Team officially begins pool play Saturday against Finland, followed by Switzerland in another preliminary game the next day. The semifinals will take place Tuesday, with the bronze- and gold-medal games to follow Wednesday.
Earlier this week at EZO Romanshorn, Team USA defeated Switzerland 4-0 in a pre-tournament exhibition game. Cruz Lucius (Grant, Minn.) led the way with a goal and two assists, while Dylan Silverstein (Calabasas, Calif.) and Arthur Smith (Farmington, Conn.) combined in goal for the shutout. The tune-up allowed players to get over any initial nervousness they may have had entering the event.
“We didn’t have that in 2016,” Paluch explained. “The exhibition game helped with putting on the USA jersey for the first time and playing international competition.”
Paluch, of Bowling Green, Ohio, is joined by assistants Guy Gosselin of Grafton, Wisconsin, and Kevin Reiter of Plymouth, Michigan. Paluch and Gosselin are both USA Hockey American Development Model (ADM) regional managers, while Reiter is in his seventh season with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and his third as the director of player personnel.
Each year, hundreds of players take part in USA Hockey’s National Player Development Camp for 15-year-olds, and must register with the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee to be considered for the Olympic team.
This year’s roster is comprised of 17 players from 10 states, including five from Minnesota, three from Michigan and two from Florida. Paluch acknowledges the task of narrowing down hundreds of players to the final 17 is challenging, but in a good way.
“We saw that last time [in 2016], and had a team that was able to win gold,” he said. “We feel the process this year was even tougher.”
Whereas the 2016 squad featured size and strength, particularly on defense, this year’s team emphasizes quickness.
“Physically, we had some size on the back line,” Paluch said of the gold-medal team. “I think our forwards matchup is pretty similar to what we had in 2016. In general, it’s a quick group with a good set of hockey sense and intelligence and the ability to make plays. That’s the kind of team we’re trying to mold when we start the Games.”
Since most of the players are being exposed to international competition for the first time, Paluch wants to ensure they take in the whole experience in addition to competing.
“That balance is very important,” he explained. “Players need to be able to enjoy the experience. As a staff, that’s the atmosphere we really want to create.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge in an event like this is bringing different players from around the country together in a relatively short time. For Paluch, it’s one of the more thrilling aspects of coaching an Olympic team.
“We take the approach of selecting good hockey players, and we want to put them in a good frame of mind and let them play,” he said. “Generally, it’s their first opportunity to represent their country. Ultimately, we want them to understand what that means off and on the ice in a team culture.”
Team USA was able to accomplish that successfully in 2016, so winning another gold medal this year would be especially gratifying.
“I think it’s pretty special when players can come together and achieve something,” Paluch said. “But we certainly understand there are so many good hockey players representing Canada, Russia, Finland, Switzerland and Denmark in this tournament. We just want to be ready to compete. We do have a team that’s capable.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
|Date||Opponent||Time (Local/ET)/Result||Stream||Location||Game Stats|
|Tues., Jan. 14||Switzerland
|W, 4-0||Stream Here||EZO Romanshorn
|Sat., Jan. 18||Finland
|W, 7-5||Stream Here||Vaudoise Arena
|Sun., Jan. 19||Switzerland
|W, 8-2||Stream Here||Vaudoise Arena
|Tues., Jan. 21||Canada
|W, 2-1||Stream Here||Vaudoise Arena
|Wed., Jan. 22||Russia
|L, 0-4||Stream Here||Vaudoise Arena