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Magnitude of WJC Not Lost on U.S. Players

By Mike McMahon - Special to, 01/01/15, 10:45AM EST


The five returnees on the U.S. National Junior Team for the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship remember the feeling following their loss last year to Russia in the quarterfinals of the 2014 tournament.

Goaltender Thatcher Demko, who didn’t play a single minute as the team’s third goaltender, stood seething the hallway just outside the U.S. locker room. Hudson Fasching and Steve Santini remember the looks on the faces of their former teammates, the ‘94-born players who might have pulled the U.S. jersey over their heads for the last time after that loss.

They aren’t fond memories, but they are motivating ones, as the Americans enter the medal round with nothing short of gold medals on their minds.

“Dream scenario is we walk home with the gold,” said Santini, who isn’t on the active roster after a wrist injury, but has stayed with Team USA throughout its round-robin play in Montreal. “That’s the dream for everyone.”

Santini, if not for the injury, may have been on the shortlist to captain this U.S. team, an honor that ultimately went to Jack Eichel. Santini has been a part of USA Hockey since he was 16 years old, when he first pulled the sweater over his head as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 team.

Santini has been part of USA Hockey teams that have had international success, including a silver medal in the U18 world championships in Sochi, Russia, and wanted nothing more than to help bring a gold medal in this tournament, the last junior-level tournament he’s eligible for with USA Hockey. While he isn’t contributing on the ice, his presence is clearly felt in the U.S. locker room.

The NHL Network broadcast team of Steve Mears, Dan Bylsma and Dave Starman have continually talked of Santini’s leadership throughout Team USA’s round-robin play, despite being one of the last cuts on Christmas day.

His teammates, including fellow Boston College Eagle Ian McCoshen, echo that sentiment, calling Santini “the most fantastic team guy I’ve ever played with.”

“When we lost the Under-18s in Sochi, I was devastated,” Santini said. “Then last year [at World Juniors], the way we lost to Russia, I was very unhappy. USA Hockey has done so much for me; I want to get them a gold medal.

“It was very difficult after that game last year, especially being a younger guy and seeing how much that ‘94 group really cared. A lot of those guys played for the NTDP and then one or two years of the World Juniors, and it was a sad ending for them. They don’t know when they’ll wear the USA jersey again. They wanted it really bad, and to come up short like that, as a younger guy, you feel it for them. It’s going to be emotional for the older guys this year.”

This ‘95-born group has sights set on finishing last year’s business.

For at least 11 players on the U.S. team, this is their final chance at winning a World Junior Championship gold medal. Others, like Eichel, are eligible for next year’s team but could also be in the midst of their rookie seasons in the National Hockey League, and whether or not the players’ potential NHL clubs would allow for a loan is debatable.

“There is definitely unfinished business,” ‘95-born forward Fasching said. “It means a lot. You never know, it could be the last time you wear this USA jersey. Every time you put it on, you wear it with pride and take it to heart.”

That red, white and blue pride runs deep in the U.S. dressing room.

“I didn’t even play last year, but I have a tremendous amount of pride for the U.S.,” said Demko. “The way the tournament ended [last year] is not the way we wanted it to. The coaches have mentioned how quick things can turn around, and it’s in the back of our minds. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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