The U.S. National Junior Team players are champing at the bit, ready to finally get some game action as they take part in this week’s U.S. National Junior Team Camp at Boston University.
Tonight, the Americans will face the BU Terriers in an exhibition at 7 p.m. inside the historic Walter Brown Arena. It will be the first time the BU men’s hockey team has played on the Walter Brown ice in almost 10 years; the last men’s game at Walter Brown was played on Jan. 2, 2005, against the University of Minnesota.
As excited as the BU community is for a homecoming of sorts, the U.S. coaches and players are just as excited to finally see some different colors on the opposite bench.
“Yeah, I’m ready to go,” U.S. coach Mark Osiecki said. “I think the players are too. They’re tired of beating up on each other. You saw that today. We came back out after the scrape and we slowed things down to work on power play, but when we got into the scrimmage I thought the pace came down. They’re ready to see somebody else.”
One of the biggest storylines heading into tonight is Jack Eichel, a freshman and leading scorer for the Terriers who will skate against his BU teammates tonight.
“He’ll have fun with it,” Osiecki said. “He’s such a great kid, and I can’t say enough how humble he is. Once that puck drops, it’s game on and he’s very competitive.”
Tonight is an important first step as Osiecki, his staff and general manager Jim Johannson determine the final cuts before the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship begins on Dec. 26 in Montreal and Toronto.
“I’m interested to see how Eichel plays against his own team,” said U.S. forward Hudson Fasching. “For me, it’s playing another college team, one I haven’t had the opportunity to play yet. I’m excited. We should be good. It will be good to be able to get out there and compete as a group. I know it will be a lot of fun.”
Where Everybody Knows Their Name
Boston is the setting for the famous television series “Cheers,” but in the Team USA locker room, everyone really does know each other’s name.
Well, almost everyone.
Miles Wood is the one exception and is taking part in his first experience with USA Hockey; almost all of these players have played for or against each other in the past.
It’s one of the big advantages to the U.S. National Team Development Program, the Ann Arbor, Michigan, residency program that was once home to the majority of this U.S. roster. Top U.S. players are invited to join the NTDP and play on the U.S. National Under-17 and Under-18 Teams, competing in a regular schedule in the United States Hockey League, the country’s top junior league, while also playing college opponents and international tournaments.
“It’s definitely one of the strengths of that program,” Johannson said. “We have some guys who have played in upwards of 100 games together. There is camaraderie with them going through development at that stage all together. There are more and more programs like the summer camps and just more and more organized summer skating at the higher level, where either they are teammates or from the same area, so it’s pretty rare when a guy comes in and says, ‘I literally don’t know anybody here.’ It happens every once in a while, but there is so much more familiarity from player to player.”
Eruzione Addresses Team
Mike Eruzione, the captain of the 1980 U.S. “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey team, spoke to the U.S. Junior Team on Thursday night. Eruzione works for BU, his alma mater, and had attended practices earlier this week.
“None of them were born when I played,” he joked. “Hopefully they saw the movie or a video of it.”
The U.S. National Junior Camp has many similarities to the festival Eruzione and his teammates went through at Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1979. Once the 1980 team was selected, coach Herb Brooks ran his players through tireless conditioning drills.
“They’re a lot bigger, stronger and faster than we were,” Eruzione said. “This is a whole different era. Our practices were very different. These guys are still trying out. Once the team is picked, maybe their practices won’t be as intense as we’re watching here. Our practices weren’t physical. Our practices were conditioning. The drills were game-related flow drills. Things players do today we did 35 years ago.
“Herb was way ahead of his time in terms of the way our practices were run. Watching what they’re doing now, they’re still competing, trying to make this team. It’ll be more battling than I think we went through. Our battles were in Colorado Springs; we were battling each other during the festival. Once the team was picked, our practices were more preparation.”
Goaltending Situation Still Unclear
As of Thursday afternoon, the goaltenders weren’t sure how the split would happen for ice time in the exhibitions. After the game against BU tonight, the U.S. team will head north to Kingston, Ontario, to take on Germany and Sweden in exhibitions next week before the tournament begins one week from today.
The competition for the starting role has been fierce. Thatcher Demko might be the favorite for the starting role. He is putting together a strong start to his season at Boston College and returns as the only goaltender from last year’s U.S. Junior Team, despite not playing a single minute during the tournament.
“They haven’t said who is the starter,” Demko said. “They just said they’ll base it on practices, the exhibitions versus BU, Germany and Sweden up in Kingston. Every guy will get the opportunity to play in the exhibitions, I think, so it’s every man for themselves.”
The competition has brought out the best in the three netminders. Demko is joined in camp by Alex Nedeljkovic and Brandon Halverson.
“It’s always good to have competition,” Nedeljkovic said. “We’re still battling. It’s pushing all of us to be better.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.