The pause between Conor Garland’s offer and his decision to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the IIHF Men’s World Championships in Riga, Latvia, was brief.
Now, Garland just wishes he could fast forward to the start of the tournament.
“We’ve been over here almost a week,” Garland said in a phone interview with USAHockey.com. “I just want to get games going. I really just want to be able to play that first game for the country.”
Garland, one of 10 Worlds first-timers on the U.S roster of 26 players, will not have to wait much longer. Team USA has completed quarantine, practiced four times, and is now ready for Saturday’s 9:15 a.m. ET opener against Finland that can be seen stateside, along with the rest of the U.S. games in the tournament, on NHL Network. The U.S. is looking to earn its first gold medal at worlds since 1960, having won six bronze medals in the years since.
“When I got the call to come over here, I think I probably had the fastest answer,” the Arizona Coyotes forward said. “I told my agent, ‘Tell them yes, right away.’
“We answered in five minutes. There wasn’t much thinking. I was excited for that opportunity. I’m aware how fortunate we are to live in a country like this, so to represent it is pretty special.”
It is a chance the 25-year-old from Scituate, Massachusetts, has long been building toward.
“Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the team for World Juniors either time,” he said, reflecting on a 2015 summer camp invitation for consideration to the 2016 U.S. National Junior Team. “That kind of motivated me to get better and better and I think I’ve had a pretty good NHL career so far.”
Matt Roy, a 26-year-old Los Angeles Kings defenseman from Michigan, did not see such possibilities when he was younger.
“I always wanted to do something like this, but realistically thinking, I didn’t really think that I would be here,” Roy said. “I was kind of a late bloomer growing up and I was just kind of taking things one step at a time with my career.
“When this opportunity came up, I knew I wanted to jump on it.”
Garland and Roy are joined by Colin Blackwell, Brian Boyle, Connor Mackey, Trevor Moore, Eric Robinson, Kevin Rooney, Ryan Shea and Matt Tennyson as U.S. players making their IIHF World Championships debut.
Roy and Blackwell, a forward with the New York Rangers, have been designated alternate captains for the tournament while Worlds veteran Justin Abdelkader will be team captain for the second time. Abdelkader is among the older players at the age of 34, but not the oldest, as Boyle will be making his worlds debut at 36.
“It’s been a different experience with the whole team trying to get to know each other,” Roy said. “We’re just trying to be friendly and get to know each other a little bit more.
“I think that will translate to the ice and make things easier.”
The team roster is loaded with players coming from a variety of backgrounds. Some players know each other from competing together on the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, some come from the same NHL organizations and one, Ryan Donato, even has an Olympic Games under his belt. All players can bring something to the table, but having a short window to develop team chemistry is a new challenge for those without a history in world championship events.
“I’ve never really been on a team like this except maybe for summer tournaments, but then you’re so young that you don’t really have a system,” Garland said. “This is the first time learning a system, leading up to a tournament, pretty quickly.
“You have to make sure you’re paying attention in meetings and when you’re on the ice for practice.”
Rival Canada awaits the U.S. in the second game of the preliminary round, which concludes with Italy on June 1. Playoffs begin June 3 with the gold and bronze medal games taking place June 6.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.