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U.S. Men Head to U18 Worlds in Hopes of Capturing 11th Gold Medal

By Becky Olsen, 04/21/22, 10:45AM EDT

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Experienced group seeking first medal at worlds since 2019

After a fifth-place finish at the 2021 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Under-18 Men’s World Championship, Team USA is looking to rebound and get back to its winning ways in 2022. After all, the U.S. has captured 10 gold and 17 medals in tournament history overall, the most of any competing country.

For head coach Adam Nightingale, who will make his IIHF head coaching debut, it’s a matter of finding a similar formula for his squad to have success. Nightingale brings a wealth of international experience to the table, having worked with the U.S. Men’s National Team, being behind the bench as an assistant coach for the bronze medal-winning 2021 team and serving as video coach from 2017-19, a run which included a bronze medal in 2018.

“We gave our players four things for this year’s World Championship: being disciplined, being resilient, the importance of special teams and playing to our team identity [smart, fast and hard],” said Nightingale. “I believe if we can do all four things, we can have success.

“This group has come to the rink every single day, looking to get better and understanding the importance of taking care of business. I am confident that we can compete for a gold medal if we go out and play like we know how to do.”

This year’s U18 tournament will run from April 23 through May 1 in Landshut and Kaufbeuren, Germany. The U.S. will compete in Group A alongside Canada, Czechia and Germany, while Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Latvia will compete in Group B. All eight teams will qualify for the quarterfinal round and will be reseeded according to their tournament ranking.

“This is definitely a unique tournament schedule,” said Nightingale. “We really need to focus and get better as the tournament goes on. We want to be playing our best hockey when it matters the most. We will be playing on a big sheet but at the end of the day, it’s just hockey. We want to be competitive and play our best game.”

Team USA warmed up with two pre-tournament games (a 3-2 SOL to Sweden followed by a 6-1 W over Finland) before the preliminary-round opener against Canada on Saturday, April 23. It’s a date that has been circled on the calendar for some time now.

2022 U18 Men's Worlds

Count forward Cruz Lucius, who will be playing in his first U18 World Championship, among the players who cannot wait to get on the ice for their first IIHF tournament.

“I’m super excited to take part in this tournament,” said Lucius. “I think it will be fun and it has taken a lot for me to get here. It has been hard work but I’m excited for the chance to play.

“The first game against Canada is going to be fun. I think we will be ready to go, especially since it is the first game for us. It is against our rival and such a good way to kick off the tournament.”

Schedule

Team USA will bring back plenty of experience as this year’s roster features seven players who played on the 2021 team as underagers, including forwards Logan Cooley, Marek Hejduk, Isaac Howard, Rutger McGroarty and Charlie Stramel along with defensemen Ryan Chesley and Lane Hutson. That experience will be key in helping the team navigate this year’s tournament. They bring a different perspective and understanding on how the tournament goes.

“The tournament definitely goes by pretty quick,” said Hutson, who tallied five assists in five games last year and was named one of Team USA’s three best players at the conclusion of the tournament. “It really goes to what we have been practicing for all year. We learned how to handle the pressure and we have to take each game. We can’t get too high or too low.”

Daily Notebook

Meanwhile, McGroarty’s perspective from last year’s fifth-place showing is what he remembers on the feeling after the team lost in the quarterfinals.

“One of the main lessons that I learned is you cannot change who your team is,” he said. “It was definitely tough to lose last year. Our team knows what makes us successful. We need to be ourselves and have fun.

“For me, it’s all about leading by example — and giving 100% effort, no matter what.”

The biggest difference for this year’s squad is they have played in just one international tournament — a first-place finish at the Five Nations in Switzerland in November. A big benefit for the U18s is they also played a college schedule where they earned 12 wins along with the traditional USHL schedule.

“This group definitely had a challenging schedule,” said Nightingale. “We haven’t had too many opportunities for international play due to COVID, so this is going to be special for our team.

“The college schedule definitely has prepared us. We are playing against older, stronger and faster teams. It really teaches us and prepares us for a wide variety of opponents. It also makes us have to play focused and within our game.”

Both Cruz and Lane understand that preparation can only help with the team success at worlds.

“Playing the older guys really helps us get ready,” said Lucius. “We are forced to play faster and be stronger. I think we learned that we have to show up for every game. It was an important lesson, but I think it can help us in Germany.”

“We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to play on the international stage, but the college games definitely helped prep us for this event,” said Hutson. “It really taught us how to play up and down the ice, the need to play as a team and the importance of playing our game.”

McGroarty, the team’s captain, believes his team has all it needs to bring home a gold medal, a goal that they have been working on since they arrived in Plymouth in late August of 2020.

“The number one thing about the U18 World Championship, we’re on a big stage so we need to go out there and play our game,” he said. “We are a talented and hard-working group. We need to believe in ourselves.

“We haven’t had that many international experiences, but every time we put on the USA jersey, we do so with pride.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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