LAKE PLACID, New York - Hours after trimming the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp roster to 31 players, head coach Don Lucia put his team through a spirited, up-tempo practice here at the Herb Brooks Arena.
"The most important thing was that we got a lot accomplished today," Lucia said. "We tried to do some concepts with our guys the way we want to try to play, first time we had a chance to do that. We had a lot of reps with that many guys on the ice and all in all we had a good practice."
With games against Sweden, Finland and Canada over the next four days, Lucia used today's practice to instill some team concepts, power play and penalty kill strategies, and to solidify some chemistry.
Lucia slowly applied the gas to the tempo at today's practice, opening with passing drills then building to full contact forechecking and special teams drills.
"USA Hockey always plays a high tempo game," said defenseman Will Butcher. "You practice like you play so I think that's why we have such a high-tempo practice"
Each drill added an element of competitiveness and another layer of complexity. From two-man passing drills, the players switched gears quickly to forecheck, cycling and power play/penalty kill drills. By the time the final huddle broke at the end of practice, the newly formed final roster had been put through a drill covering nearly every game situation.
"It went well," said goaltender John Gillies. "Everyone is getting some chemistry and everyone is working hard. We had a good day as a team."
The practice was also a chance for Lucia to hammer home team concepts and lines that will hold for the next three games and beyond.
"Knowing how he wants the team to play and how the structures work it helps the guys get used to how he plays and what he's expecting," Butcher said.
Although 13 players left Lake Placid for home this morning, the theme from coaches and players remaind the same: As One.
"It's kind of a self explanatory statement," Butcher said. "We want good team chemistry going into the tournament coming from everybody so that's one of the key points I think that this team tries to focus on."
The slogan will stay with the U.S. squad all the way through the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship in Malmo, Sweden.
Team USA coaches and management met with all 44 camp invitees this morning and informed the players which of them would continue the camp and which would head home.
The decisions were tough, said general manager Jim Johannson, but he emphasized that all players know their evaluation doesn't end with this summer camp.
"As we've told the players it's just one part of the process for us in the evaluation," Johannson said. "We cut down to the thirty-one players remaining today to play the next three games and give us more of an opportunity to put players in situations where we want to see them.
"Certanly a lot of good players released today will all be looked at across the start of their season and evaluated with the pool of players here," he added.
Lucia said the evaluation process was difficult with players and staff coming together in one place for the first time.
"Some guys played their way into staying based on how they played the last day," Lucia said. "Part of it is that some of us have a better feel for players than others ... Maybe some of those kids with good proximity we've had more views of them so a better feel for what they can do. Some of it had to do with that with who stayed and who left."