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U.S. Players are Eager to Make the Most Out of World Juniors Experience

By Sean Shapiro, 12/19/23, 10:30AM EST

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Seven players who won bronze in last year’s tournament are back on the team, hoping for a shot at gold

John Vanbiesbrouck, the general manager of the U.S. National Junior Team, doesn’t like the word “cutting” when discussing the United States team slated to play at the IIHF World Junior Championship, which starts on Dec. 26 in Gothenburg, Sweden.  

Instead, Vanbiesbrouck prefers to use the term “selection” when discussing final roster decisions, which Vanbiesbrouck says is a reminder that opportunities can always develop later. 

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“A good friend of mine once told me we’re not really cutting anybody, we’re just not selecting [and] they have an opportunity in the future,” Vanbiesbrouck said.

That’s an important mentality, not just for those who didn’t make the roster, but also for those selected for Team USA. This is an opportunity, and those who made the roster have a chance to make the most of it. 

Team USA returns seven players from the 2023 team that won a bronze medal and those 2004 birth-year players that are back from a year ago are focused on helping this year’s team reach the top of the mountain.

“I’ve been talking with a lot of ‘04s about this, this is our last shot at gold,” Jimmy Snuggerud said. “We know that as a group, and we are going to let the younger guys know that. They obviously won U-18 worlds [last year] and we are going to do our best like every other team. But this means a lot to us, we’ve lost in the biggest games before, so that’s the itch we have on our back, and we are more than ready for this.”

That mindset aligns well with the visions of Vanbiesbrouck, who said he expects the Americans to contend for a gold medal. The United States is also a trendy pick among other outside observers and publications to win it all, especially with a roster that features 10 first-round NHL draft picks. 

David Carle, head coach at the University of Denver, will be running the bench for the Americans at the tournament, and he is planning on playing a similar up-tempo, puck possession style his teams have played at Denver. 

Carle’s system works well in the college ranks — the Pioneers won the NCAA championship in 2022 — and it should also translate well to international ice, where a bigger surface can play into the hands of the smooth-skating Americans. 

Carle said the identity of Team USA will be built on how well they skate and use those tools to their advantage. This is particularly noticeable on the blue line. Sam Rinzel is the only defenseman over 6-foot-2, but the team’s blue liners defend well with their feet and create chances in transition starting in their own zone. 

Being a short tournament, the Americans and the rest of the teams are on the clock to figure out chemistry early and build on it throughout. Using past chemistry from either college teams or USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, Carle started putting together lines and pairings in training camp that brought the best out of each player. 

The best example is the Boston College trio of Gabe Perreault, Will Smith and Ryan Leonard, who have been linemates for the NTDP and then again this season for the Eagles. You could call it instant chemistry, but this an American cohesiveness that’s been building for a couple of years. 

The other key to a short tournament is the importance of solid goaltending. 

Michigan State’s Trey Augustine returns after starting in this tournament as a 17-year-old. In most cases, he’d be an outright starter, but the United States has the luxury of a goalie trio that features Boston College’s Jacob Fowler, who has been one of the best goalies this season in the NCAA and also Sam Hillebrandt, who plays for the Barrie Colts.

“That was probably the easiest decision,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “We didn’t really have to worry about that one too much.”

Team USA’s run in the tournament starts on Dec. 26 against Norway. The 48th IIHF World Junior Championship culminates on Jan. 5 with the bronze and gold-medal games.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.


TEAM USA SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT/ROUND Result LOCATION PLAYER OF GaMe
Thurs., Dec. 21 Sweden
Pre-Tournament
W, 5-3 Catena Arena
Angelholm, Sweden
Cutter Gauthier
Sat., Dec. 23 Canada
Pre-Tournament
W, 6-5 OT Kungsbacka Ishall
Kungsbacka, Sweden
Ryan Leonard
Tues., Dec 26 Norway
Preliminary Round
W, 4-1 Frölundaborg
Gothenburg, Sweden
Gavin Brindley
Thurs., Dec 28 Switzerland
Preliminary Round
W, 11-3 Frölundaborg
Gothenburg, Sweden
Jimmy Snuggerud
Fri., Dec 29 Czechia
Preliminary Round
W, 4-3 SO Frölundaborg
Gothenburg, Sweden
Lane Hutson
Sun., Dec 31 Slovakia
Preliminary Round
W, 10-2 Frölundaborg
Gothenburg, Sweden
Rutger McGroarty
Tues., Jan 2 Latvia
Quarterfinals
W, 7-2 Frölundaborg
Gothenburg, Sweden
Gabe Perreault
Thurs., Jan 4 Finland
Semifinals
W, 3-2 Scandinavium
Gothenburg, Sweden
Cutter Gauthier
Fri., Jan 5 Sweden
Gold Medal Game
W, 6-2 Scandinavium
Gothenburg, Sweden
Isaac Howard

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