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2022 World Juniors Notebook

By USA Hockey, 12/29/21, 2:30PM EST

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A behind-the-scenes look at Team USA's journey at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship

The 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship was set to take place Dec. 26, 2021 - Jan. 5, 2022. Team USA was looking to chase another gold medal after defeating Canada, 2-0, in the 2021 gold-medal game. On Dec. 29, the IIHF announced the cancellation of the event due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. 


Dec. 29: Tournament Cancelled By The IIHF

Following a recommendation by the tournament COVID-19 Medical Group and the IIHF Medical Committee, the IIHF Council announced that, due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, the rest of the 2022 tournament would be cancelled to ensure the health and safety of all participants. 

Dec. 28: U.S. Forced to Forfeit Game Against Switzerland

Team USA was scheduled to play a preliminary round game against Switzerland, but was unable to due to tournament COVID-19 protocol. The U.S. were forced to forfeit its game against the Swiss, recorded as a 1-0 win for Switzerland. It was the first-ever U.S loss to Switzerland in World Juniors history.

The team isolated, continuing to follow tournament protocol, as players and staff have done since arriving in camp on Dec. 12 in Plymouth, Mich. The next 48 hours were confusing and frustrating for everyone, but with proper leadership, the U.S. mentally and physically prepared to return back to the ice against Sweden, in the second game of a scheduled back-to-back series.

Dec. 27: Home Dressers

With the sun at high noon, thermostats read -27 degrees in Reed Deer, with -31 tonight quickly approaching.

It’s cold, very cold.

But the comforts of home warm the hotel rooms as the team settles into its game day groove. After last night’s 3-2 win over Slovakia, Team USA held practice in a local rink down the road from the WP Centrium.

The U.S. bus arrived for the team to dress inside the tournament locker room, and then board the bus again to reach its practice destination. Yup, that’s right: the ‘ole “Dress and Drive.” One benefit? Hockey gear is quite warm in this weather.

Athletes want to settle into a good rhythm to help with their performance, both mentally and physically. Preparing for Switzerland, a 2:30 p.m. MT puck drop, will focus on having a quick start. Players will need to mentally be ready to play, and then physically rest for the following Sweden matchup that will complete the back-to-back set.

Video sessions will play an important role in preparing the U.S. for its opponents over the next two days, with today’s practice setting the foundation for the games to come. At this point in the tournament, practice is serving the purpose of getting the players confident in their rhythm. They’ve done the hard work. Now it’s about getting them into a position where they can go out and play, without thinking, and execute.


Dec. 26: USA 3 SVK 2

RED DEER, Alberta – Matthew Knies (Phoenix, Ariz.) netted Team USA’s first goal of the tournament, while nine Americans recorded a point in as the 2022 U.S. National Junior Team defeated Slovakia, 3-2, here tonight in the preliminary round opener of the 2022 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship in Red Deer, Alberta.

“Our guys stuck together and grinded out a tough game,” said head coach Nate Leaman (East Greenwich, R.I.). “It’s a good first step for our group. We need to keep working hard and improving before we play Switzerland on Tuesday.”

Highlights

Photos

Postgame Comments

Dec. 25: Twas the Day of Christmas

Twas the day of Christmas, when all through the rink
The boys were buzzing, they didn’t know what to think;
The jerseys were hung in the lockers with care,
Knowing that team photos would be soon be there.

The boys awoke all snug from their beds,
While visions of World Juniors danced in their heads;
Head coach in his jacket, and I in my suit,
A spread of chicken, salad and fruit.

Practice began with such a clatter,
Passes crisp, and nothing the matter.
Away to the bus we flew like a flash,
Back to the buffet, and gave Tabasco a dash.

To the cold Alberta air and new-fallen snow
Gave us thick blankets, and even a throw.
When, to falling asleep, my eyes should appear,
Tomorrow is game day, here in Red Deer.

“Now, SANDY! Now, FABES! Now, SLAGGS and DREW!
On, BERNY! On, KAISER! BRETT… we didn’t forget you!
To the top of the world, let’s get a quick goal!
Now dash away! Dash away! Come on boys, let’s roll!

Dec. 24: Christmas Cheer

The U.S. moved back into their home locker room at WP Centrium in Red Deer this morning, and took time to stretch and review film. During the light team workout, the team’s speaker came out of the locker room and blasted Christmas cheer.

Everything from the Christmas classics of “Feliz Navidad” to Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas Is You” echoed through the tunnels of the arena while players played sewer ball, ran around and stretched.

Holiday songs fueled a festive debate on the bus.

“Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?”

“What about Home Alone?”

The back-and-forth made it all the way from the bus to the lunch room, where hotel staff surprised Team USA with an American-themed meal. Charbroiled hamburgers, grilled hot dogs and crispy fries were quickly snatched from meal tables.

It might be -10 outside, but inside the Americans’ lunch room it felt warm and sunny, like a family barbeque.

Players and staff went back to their rooms, and found time to call family and friends, wishing them a Merry Christmas. These are all small moments, but the small moments are what create a sense of home and family throughout the team.


Dec. 23: FIN 4, USA 3 (OT)

EDMONTON, Alberta – The U.S. took a late 3-1 lead into the final minutes of the third period, but Finland scored three consecutive power play goals to win the pre-tournament contest, 4-3. Tanner Dickinson (Perrysburg, Ohio), Brett Berard (East Greenwich, R.I.) and Dominic James (Plymouth, Mich.) scored for the U.S.

“The exhibition served its purpose for our team as we learned what may make us successful, but also what would make us unsuccessful in the tournament,” said head coach Nate Leaman (East Greenwich, R.I.). “This tournament is about getting better and better. We carried a large stretch of that game showing the identity we need to play to have a good tournament.”

Highlights

Photos

Dec. 22: New Digs

Team USA moved into its tournament locker room inside the WP Centrium, home of the Red Deer Rebels. The U.S. has moved four times now since the beginning of camp, each time a herculean team effort, but the team has now finally reached its preliminary tournament home. 

There will be an additional locker room move, to Edmonton’s Rogers Place, for the pre-tournament game tomorrow night against Finland. Players packed their bags following practice in preparation for the long haul.

One hundred miles separate Red Deer and Edmonton, but it’s a journey that Team USA has on its list of goals to accomplish. Advancing beyond quarterfinals places the U.S. National Junior Team back into the familiar halls of Rogers Place. That’s when the tournament matters the most, and losing only sends the team home short of its goal.

But in order to take that journey to Edmonton, Team USA must make the most of its opportunities here in Red Deer. They must earn a move to Rogers Place. The first opportunity comes on Dec. 26, with a matchup against Slovakia.

After tomorrow’s pre-tournament game, Team USA will soon begin its attack for a sixth gold medal.

MACKIE SAMOSKEVICH FEATURE

Dec. 21: Captain America

Jeff Blashill, head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, joined the team via Zoom after dinner Monday evening. Blashill, a Michigan native, is no stranger to coaching U.S. teams, coaching six teams as both a head coach and an assistant.

Now in his seventh season as the bench boss for the Red Wings, Blashill’s presence on screen demanded attention. He shared his first memories as a coach, putting on a blue USA Hockey blazer that at the time was mandatory for coaches to wear on the bench. It was his first opportunity to represent his country on the international stage, and something he’ll never forget.

“I’m jealous of you right now, I love wearing those colors.”

Players asked Blashill questions about how to handle the bubble, how to become a good team in international tournament, and what he thinks is important for winning the World Juniors. After the back-and-forth, Blashill shared his final thoughts of advice and encouragement.

One thing was clear: everyone at some point will be asked to lead.

Players slept on the call overnight, and woke up early for morning practice. It was apparent the advice from the call had been well-received. Practice found a new level of intensity, pushing the pace closer to game speed.

At the end of practice, head coach Nate Leaman, who served as an assistant coach alongside Blashill on the 2009 U.S. National Junior Team, gathered the group for an important announcement. Jake Sanderson was announced as the team’s captain, along with alternate captains Matty Beniers, Brock Faber and Landon Slaggert.

Team USA has its captain. But throughout this tournament, any of the 25 players have a chance to place their name in the history books, cement a goal on a highlight reel or forever be remembered as a champion. Big saves, timely blocks, hard forechecks and greasy goals, that’s what wins this tournament. It’s how leaders earn their title. It’s how legends are remembered.

Dec. 20: Time Away From the Ice

Not every second of this tournament is spent at the rink in Alberta. Players and staff are living normal, well as normal as they can, lives to balance their days. However, time away from the rink can quickly spill back into hockey. Players are checking on their college teams back home, while coaches watch their games too, albeit with more intensity.

It can be hard to be away from your season-long team. For coaches, they’ve spent years building their programs, and it can be nearly impossible to watch silently on an iPad from thousands of miles away. And for players, their school is their second family. Their teammates are brothers, fighting for wins without them by their side.

It’s also not all about hockey, though. Sunday evening’s dinner went to complete silence as the Baltimore Ravens inched toward a game-tying touchdown drive against the Green Bay Packers. With 42 seconds remaining, the Ravens appeared to be poised to tie the game after a quarterback rush.

“There’s too much time left for Rodgers!”

“No way!”

Then the room hushed again to see if the Ravens were really going to go for two points, and the win, following their miraculous last-minute drive. After a timeout, it was confirmed. Two-point conversion was on.

Everyone quickly announced their predictions. The ball was snapped, and as Tyler Huntley’s pass hit the ground, the room erupted.

“I told you!”

“Why’d they even go for it?”

Something as simple as a Sunday night NFL game can bring the sense of home to the U.S. team. We’re all away from families, holiday traditions, university teams, our normal lives. Yet a late-night football game with dinner can make you forget all of that, and make Red Deer feel like home.

Dec. 19: Communication

People communicate many different ways. You communicate with your eyes, your body movements, and of course with your mouth. All of these aspects of communication are important for on-ice chemistry. Players can read one another’s eyes moving across the ice, or their hands as they prepare a pass. Every skater has their own unique subtle movements, their own skating stride or technique as they hint towards their next move.

Team USA has only been together as a team for less than a week, but they are already beginning to understand one another.

And most importantly, they’re talking. Communication was emphasized heavily today. Be annoying. Don’t shut up. Talk all the time on the ice. Keep talking. Make sure your linemates know exactly where you are.

Team building and Zoom calls built the foundation for the team earlier this week. Guys needed to be comfortable with one another before they could truly communicate well on the ice.

Practice started with one-touch pass circles. Ironically, the games were all about deception and attempting to hide your next move. But once the games were over, and the ice was dry, the team skated laps passing to a partner. With 12 pairs passing pucks in a circle, communication was key. And then, at the sound of a whistle, everyone stopped hard and began skating the other direction. There’s a need for focus, to find your intended target, and communicate them despite all of the noise and action around you.

To an outsider, it would look like the U.S. squad is playing games on the ice. But for any USA Hockey coach or volunteer that has read the organization’s coaching modules, or stepped out on the ice during the week with their 14U team, practice is all about creating competition. Coaches mimic the game in practice. You build competition, you build communication, you build chemistry and you build skill.

It’s fun. After all, practice should be fun, even for the top 20-and-under players in America.

ONE TOUCH

Dec. 18: Back on the Ice

ON THE PURSUIT

A cold, dry wind blew strong outside the Cambridge Red Deer Hotel. A man, dressed in short sleeves despite the below-zero temperatures, was waiting for the team to hop onto the bus.

Despite his mask, you could see his grin, as cold winds pierced his exposed skin.

But the smiles were even larger for Team USA. After two days locked in their own hotel rooms, players and staffs walked freely to breakfast, and then climbed aboard the team bus for practice. The wave of fresh air in between the hotel and bus, despite the frigid temperature, put a smile on everyone’s faces.

Despite the news of pre-tournament games scaling back to one-per-team, today was filled with optimism and positive energy. Today was the team’s first skate on Canadian ice, an important milestone in the tournament journey.

Practice was upbeat, with the coaching staff emphasizing quick feet and moving the puck fast. After five practices in Michigan, some of the timing and chemistry needed to be rediscovered.

The U.S. will have additional practices now with the updated tournament schedule. It’s not a setback, it’s an opportunity. The team focus has been battling adversity, and finding success no matter what the circumstances are. That’s the gold medal standard. It’s an echo of last year’s message. Battle through, and become the strongest team come tournament time.

And that’s what the U.S. will do. Battle hard at practice, and be ready for its pre-tournament opponent, whoever that might be.


Dec. 17: One Day At A Time

As the team approaches close to 48 hours isolated in their own hotel rooms, the pace, albeit slow overall while locked in, began to pick up today. Meals are being delivered to match the upcoming practice and games schedule, and team activities began to ramp up today as well.

Most of us, fans included, have long suffered from Zoom fatigue over the course of this pandemic. But this team knows the importance of coming together as a group. It’s a common phrase, from all nations, that this tournament is about who can come together as a team the quickest, and who is playing their best hockey during quarterfinals.

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Zoom has been playing an important role in accomplish those goals.

Work can be done, even from hotel beds and chairs, as Team USA looks outside at the icy Red Deer tundra. Temperatures this morning read -22 degrees Fahrenheit. Steam formed on windows as cardio workouts, stretching and team building happened over Zoom. Bodies have been rested, and now it’s time to get ready for work.

Tomorrow marks a monumental day. Team USA will leave their hotel rooms and enjoy the comforts of an ice rink for the first time since they left Plymouth, Mich. It’s time to get the legs moving. It’s time to perfect timing. It’s time to find chemistry. It’s time to install systems.

Tomorrow, it’s time for hockey.


Dec. 16: Into the Bubble

MIC'D UP WITH MATTY BENIERS

The team arrived late Wednesday night into the Calgary airport, dodging approaching storms just outside of Minneapolis. The temperature was well below zero as staff prepared gear to be transported to Red Deer in a cargo truck and team bus.

After initial testing upon entering Canada, everyone went into their hotel rooms for the mandated two-day isolation quarantine period, which will include additional tests.

Five practices in two days, along with a long travel day, the team utilized the first day of quarantine as a rest and recovery day. Players participated in team building Zoom calls, eating lunch together and sharing hockey stories, while staff continued administrative tasks. Players completed a stretch and light recovery session with trainers via Zoom, and are awaiting dinner Zoom sessions.

The food thus far has been similar to what you find on the road with a hockey team: pasta and chicken with vegetables, mashed potatoes and soup. Upon the advice of veteran players, first-year bubble players brought snacks to enjoy during the downtime, ensuring that they have enough to eat over the two days.

Quarantine can impact people differently. It is a good opportunity to build camaraderie, but it’s also a good time to reflect. With how quickly camp completed, the moment of the World Juniors has maybe fully sunk in for a few players. Now that the excitement has settled, it’s a wave of calmness and gratitude for everyone who helped them achieve this moment.

It’s an important moment for these young players, and something they’ll carry with them for the next month. ‘Thank you’ never seems enough for the early practices and late night hot chocolates. Most players say, ‘thanks’ by showing their love for the game, and sharing it with the next generation of hockey kids.


Dec. 15 | Moving Day

The team is set. USA Hockey announced the 25 players that will compete for their country at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship. Included in the group are six returners, who will surely be sought after to be leaders in what to expect on the international stage, but it’s a different set of returners working overtime at USA Hockey Arena.

With a practice late Tuesday, and then again Wednesday morning, the support staff worked overnight to prepare shipping, box up supplies and pack bags for Alberta.

If yesterday was about focusing on the small details, today is about executing those to perfection. The mad dash from the arena, located just outside of Detroit, to the airport is just one major hurdle.

Everything from medical and training equipment, to laundry and sticks, has to be accounted for, packed and organized in a way so that unpacking the locker room in just a few days will go as smoothly as the rest of the operation.

Led by returning equipment managers Scott Aldrich and Nate LaPoint, the logistics involved in a move of this nature has been orchestrated multiple times internationally. That experience, along with the hard work of the entire staff, make everything possible for Team USA.

It’s something that will probably never be noticed by fans, or ever make a highlight reel, but without their hard work today, USA Hockey’s locker room would never act as a home away from home for the players.

And that’s how the team plans to hit the ground running in Red Deer.

Dec. 14 | Little Details

Tuesday marked the second day of practice at USA Hockey Arena, and probably the most important day of camp. Coaches have given players the playbook to success for the team, through video and one-on-one discussions, and practice mimicked a preview of what’s to come for Team USA.

Breakouts, D-to-D passes, re-groups: all of these monotonous aspects of the game of hockey, being perfected by some of the best hockey players in the world. These small details can be the difference between a good team, and a great team.

Up to this point, the hockey personnel staff and coaches have not only been with players in August, but they have been watching, scouting and talking with a large pool of potential players to attend this camp. Now that the individuals are here, it will be the small details that start to form a team.

It’s also small details that remind the players of the opportunity to represent their country on an international stage. Thus far, players have worn red, blue, white and green practice jerseys donning the USA Hockey flag. Not quite the official tournament kit. Skaters are breaking in their new skates, designed to incorporate the American flag, as is becoming a tradition for World Juniors.

But there is still work to be done. There is more to be earned.

With every goal achieved as a team, this group gets closer to pulling our country’s red, white and blue over their shoulder pads. That’s when it will hit them. In a locker room in Red Deer, Alberta, as they look across the room, and see the 24 other guys ready to fight for a gold medal.

That’s when the small details come together, and we become USA Hockey.


Dec. 13 | Attacking Another Gold Medal

FIRST PRACTICE IN PLYMOUTH

The tone is set, and it’s clear: the U.S. is not defending a gold medal. This is a different U.S. squad, with different players and a different identity. They are attacking.

For the six returning players, they may recognize the same staff, but that’s where the familiarity ends. This team will have to work hard, if not harder, to achieve its goal.

Day 1 of camp at USA Hockey Arena, located just outside of Detroit, Mich. in the small town of Plymouth, was jammed with two practices, meals, off-ice workouts and other obligations.

Player interviews with NHL Network’s Jon Morosi began today, but more importantly for some players were taking final exams.

Matt Coronato, a freshman at Harvard University, was studying for his final in Zulu, a South African language course that also includes the African history of the Nguni ethnic group. Brett Berard, a sophomore at Providence College, completed his Statistics course today. It’s a reminder to the fans that these young athletes are not only the best American hockey players, but they are also some of the brightest young college students.

Players went to bed early after the two-a-day schedule, recovering and preparing for another full day of practices. The 30 skaters, all under the age of 20, know that only 25 players will board the plane to Alberta on Wednesday.

It’s make or break time in Michigan, and for 25, their childhood hockey dreams of wearing a USA Hockey jersey at World Juniors will soon be realized.

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