Energy and urgency. That’s the theme of the 2021 National Junior Evaluation Camp as 42 players arrived at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich.
With safety as the priority, USA Hockey assembled the top U.S. players 20-and-under in preparation for the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Players underwent thorough testing, and entered a bubble established inside of USA Hockey Arena. It’s a taste of what players and staff will undergo while in Edmonton, Alberta when Team USA takes aim at earning its fifth medal in six years after earning a record four-consecutive medals: gold in 2017, silver in 2019, and bronze in both 2018 and 2016.
Six returners from the 2020 U.S. National Junior Team are attending camp, including goalies Spencer Knight (Darien, Conn.) and Dustin Wolf (Gilroy, Calif.). Cam York (Anaheim Hills, Calif.) is the lone blue liner returning from last year’s squad, while forwards John Beecher (Elmira, N.Y.), Bobby Brink (Minnetonka, Minn.) and Cole Caufield (Stevens Point, Wis.) comprise the forward corps.
Fifteen players attending the evaluation camp were selected in the 2020 NHL Draft that began just 48 hours prior to camp in Michigan, including fifth overall selection Jake Sanderson (Whitefish, Mont.). Sanderson is one of 26 players that previously played with the U.S. National Team Development Program. The defenseman traveled from Grand Forks, N.D. with fellow University of North Dakota defenseman Tyler Kleven (Fargo, N.D.), of whom both were selected by the Ottawa Senators in the 2020 NHL Draft.
A wide national representation continues to be a trend in the USA Hockey youth movement, with players from 18 different states in camp: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.
A pair of Matthews will be attending their first National Junior Evaluation Camp as the youngest hopefuls in camp. The youngest, Matthew Beniers (Hingham, Mass.), played last season with the U.S. National Team Development Program and is committed to the University of Michigan. Matthew Knies (Phoenix, Ari.) played with the Tri-City Storm (USHL) and is committed to the University of Minnesota. Both are eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft.
College hockey has the largest representation within the camp roster, with 39 of 42 players expected to play on college rosters this upcoming season. Boston University leads all schools with seven players, while nearby University of Michigan has five players.
Staff will have six days of camp to evaluate who can contribute the most energy and urgency to the U.S. effort. John Vanbiesbrouck (Detroit, Mich.) is serving as general manager of the 2021 U.S. National Junior Team, with Providence College men’s ice hockey head coach Nate Leaman (Providence, R.I.) at the helm on the bench. They are joined by assistant coaches Ted Donato (Cambridge, Mass.), Kris Mayotte (Ann Arbor, Mich.), Steve Miller (Columbus, Ohio) and Theresa Feaster (Providence, R.I.).