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U.S. Youth Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team Ready For Memorable Opportunity

By Dan Scifo, 01/22/24, 6:30PM EST


On top of wanting to win a gold medal, Joe Bonnett wants his players to enjoy the chance of a lifetime

Youth Olympic Games athletes stand poised to drop the puck at a San Joes Sharks Game. San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks captains are ready to take the face-off.

The 2024 U.S. Youth Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team is certainly eyeing a gold medal, as that’s the goal for any U.S. team in an international tournament.

However, head coach Joe Bonnett also wants his roster of 15- and 16-year-olds to enjoy a global experience alongside the best athletes in the world in their age group.

Team USA is set to compete in the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games, which will run from Jan. 19 to Feb. 1 in Gangwon, South Korea. The U.S. will hit the ice starting Jan. 27 with a preliminary-round game against Slovakia.

“The bottom line is that this is a youth hockey tournament, and the expectation is to win a gold medal, for sure,” Bonnett said. “But it’s also about building relationships and friendships with kids from all over the world in different sports who are the best athletes in their sport. To have that experience, it’s going to be the chance of a lifetime for these kids.”

The Youth Olympic Games brings together top athletes between the ages of 14 to 18 from more than 60 countries to compete in seven sports.

“There is a real gold medal on the line, there’s a real Opening Ceremony, it’s a real Olympic Village,” Bonnett said. “It’s a very similar global experience that the adults have, it’s just on the youth level. They want to give kids that experience to create motivation for them to ultimately reach the Olympics once again.”

In addition to the athletic competition, the players also have a chance to participate in a culture and education program designed to raise awareness of Olympic values and address topics like skill development, healthy living, social responsibility and expression through digital media.

“It’s not just about being a good teammate, but also being a good human being on a global stage,” Bonnett said. “It’s going to be the chance of a lifetime for these kids, not only in hockey, but also in education.”

Team USA has participated in all three previous Youth Olympic Winter Games, finishing fourth in 2012, taking home the gold medal in 2016 and claiming silver in 2020. Notable past U.S. players who have taken part in the Youth Olympic Games include Jack Eichel, Cutter Gauthier, Mattias Samuelsson and Nick Schmaltz, among others.

While getting a group of kids to play well together with a short amount of time to practice is a challenge, Bonnett said there are multiple factors that have helped make that a little easier.

“These kids are nationalized now, and they play against each other,” he said. “Social media has made our country very small in terms of knowing who is out there, so getting on the same page is going to be a little bit quicker because these kids are so familiar with each other, which is a positive.

“As soon as we put on the red, white and blue, we’ll instantly become a team,” Bonnett added. “The glue will be the colors and playing for your country.”

Bonnett is serving as coach of the Youth Olympic Men’s Hockey Team for the first time, but he’s experienced success as an assistant coach with the U.S. Under-17 Select Teams that won the Five Nations Tournament in 2017 and 2003. His currentfull-time role with USA Hockey is as a manager of player development.

His three assistant coaches have a wealth of experience as well. Matt Gilroy is an assistant with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, Jason Guerriero is an assistant with Northeastern University’s men’s hockey team andDave Caruso is the senior director of amateur hockey programming with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I have an outstanding staff, and this is going to be a good balance of putting in enough structure to hold them accountable to the team game, but also letting these talented kids play and shine,” Bonnett said. “We’re going to have structure and age-appropriate coaching, but we’re also going to let the kids have fun.”

Bonnett said that the most fun he’s had on the job so far came when he got to call the 17 players who made the roster for the upcoming tournament.

“For people who think that kids aren’t appreciative, they’re dead wrong,” Bonnettsaid. “These kids, some of them had tears in their eyes and they were getting choked up. To see these kids grow physically and mentally … we’re right in the thick of their development and I’m confident that this is going to be a great learning experience all the way around.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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