After earning a silver medal at the 2022 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship, Team USA is looking to rebound and bring home a gold medal this time around.
Head coach Dan Muse (Canton, Mass.) leads Team USA into the tournament for the second time in his career. For him, this will be the first time that he has worked with a group for two years prior to the event.
"The majority of the group has been together for so long,” he said. “Having been here since day one of the two-year process definitely makes a difference.”
That foundation includes netminder Trey Augustine (South Lyon, Mich.), who brings a wealth of international experience between the pipes. In addition to earning a silver medal at last year’s world championship, he also won a bronze medal at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship. He is ready to play in this year’s tournament and will draw upon his experience to help the team.
“I’m super excited and looking forward to this year’s event,” he said. “I have a couple of experiences behind me and that really helps move towards this year’s goal. I remember the feeling after losing that gold-medal game. I never want to feel that way again.”
This year’s world championship will run from April 20-30 in Basel and Porrentruy, Switzerland. The U.S. will compete in Group B alongside Finland, Latvia, Norway and Switzerland.
“It starts out with strong prep before the tournament begins,” said Muse on how his team will set up for success. “We need to make sure that we are doing everything the right way and continue to build from day one. As we get through the tournament, our mindset needs to get better each day.
Defenseman and team captain Zach Schulz (South Lyon, Mich.) has been anticipating this tournament since arriving at the NTDP.
“I think it is going to be hard to put into words,” he said. “The whole two years is what we have been preparing for — and that is to do one thing and win a gold medal. We know it will be tough.”
Team USA will play one exhibition game before playing four games in six days during pool play. There is one game that stick out to forward Ryan Leonard (Amherst, Mass.), who ranks third on the team in scoring with 76 points.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the Finland game,” he said. “They beat us at the Four Nations in February in Finland.”
The U18s have played for almost two full years together. In that time span, the team has played in four international events, a traditional USHL schedule and a collegiate schedule this season which saw the NTDP earn a program-record 16 wins.
“It will set us up especially since these college teams are much older, bigger, stronger and physical,” said Schulz. “We don’t play many teams our own age. It’s the competition level and playing against bigger and stronger guys that sets up for success.”
One big change for the team will be playing on an Olympic sized rink. The team has had a few experiences this year with rinks that size, but there are always some challenges when you move over to the larger sheet.
For Muse, he understands there are some things they need to be aware of on the ice, and he and his staff have been working to address those issues.
“For the players, it can feel different at times, especially awareness of where you are at the ice on both sides,” he said. “We have had some games on the big rink on the college schedule this year which was important for us.”
The players echo Muse’s sentiments about the big sheet. Leonard believes the bigger rink will benefit Team USA.
“We have an Olympic sheet at USA Hockey Arena, and we have been practicing on it for the last month, a few times a week,” he said. ”Knowing that the rink is bigger, it gives us more time and space and that will help our team.”
For Augustine, however, it won’t make much of a difference.
“It doesn’t change a whole lot for me and what I do,” he said. “The angles are different with face offs. At the end of the day, we are still playing hockey out there. I still have to go out and do my job.”
After almost two full years, this will be the team’s final games together. Leonard and his teammates are hoping they can go out with a gold medal around their necks.
“It’s really cool to be playing in this tournament and for a chance at a gold medal,” Leonard said. “We are eager to get over there and play other countries and represent our country. This is the last event we are putting on the jersey for a while, or even the last time for some of us. We are just excited to be there and wear the colors.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.