BOSTON, Mass. — As U.S. World Junior coach Ron Wilson put it on Tuesday, “experience counts.”
Luckily for him, USA Hockey’s roster for this week’s pre-tournament camp at Boston University is chock-full of experience, including a group that won gold internationally this past spring.
The pre-tournament roster for Team USA features eight returning players from last year’s team, and another eight players from last year’s U.S. National Under-18 Team, which won a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF U18 World Championships in Switzerland.
“Last year was huge,” said Colin White, a freshman at Boston College who won gold with the U18s last spring. “It was big just having that experience going overseas. I’ve played with a bunch of these guys already and that was very helpful coming into this camp. You know some of the styles of the different guys.”
After some cuts at the end of this week, the remaining roster will head overseas for the upcoming 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships in Helsinki, Finland, which kick off on Dec. 26, when the U.S. plays Canada in the opening round.
The U.S. opened last year’s U18 world championships with a loss to Russia before picking up wins over Slovakia, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Canada and Finland en route to the gold medal. Team USA can’t take that gold with them to Switzerland, but the experience of playing in a similar international format, overseas, has helped some of the newer U.S. players make that transition to the World Junior team.
“A lot of experience counts,” Wilson said. “You can’t replace that. You can’t put guys in there that don’t have any experience. I like our balance. We aren’t going to rely just on Auston [Matthews] and [Matthew] Tkachuk and [Alex] DeBrincat; we’re going to have to have a group of forwards who can all score. If we can play four lines and we can all score, that’s the way I want it.”
Tkachuk, Matthews and DeBrincat were skating together as a line on Tuesday. Tkachuk was a member of the gold-medal team at the U18 championships last season, and Matthews was a member of both the U18 team as well as the World Junior team.
Tkachuk said that the experience winning a gold medal has definitely helped the draft-eligible prospect prepare for this tournament. He’s also rooming with Matthews this week in Boston, and said that he’s been bouncing questions off his linemate on what to expect heading into this week’s camp and the upcoming tournament in Helsinki.
“I’ve been peppering his brain a little bit,” Tkachuk said. “I’ve been asking him the little stuff. What to expect at practice? What do the coaches bring? How hard is it? Just the competition. He’s given me a lot of positive feedback. Hopefully we can be teammates together.”
Gold-medal winners on last year’s U18 team include Tkachuk, White, Clayton Keller, Chad Krys, Casey Fitzgerald, Charlie McAvoy and Luke Opilka, who are all first-time World Junior roster members. Then there’s Matthews, who is in his second run with the World Junior team, and he also won gold at the U18 championships.
Matthews said he wants to take on a bigger leadership role with this group and can play off last year’s experience, particularly watching 2015 team captain Jack Eichel, who was drafted No. 2 overall in the NHL Entry Draft last summer and is now a rookie with the Buffalo Sabres. Matthews is also expected to be a top draft pick this coming summer.
It wasn’t just Eichel, though; Matthews said he learned a lot from other veterans on last year’s team.
“I learned from the way they handled themselves off the ice and on the ice,” said Matthews, who is playing professionally in Switzerland this season. “They focused on the team. That’s what I want to bring this year. Keep my role small and focus on the team. … It’s how you handle yourself on the ice and off the ice. Be a leader.”
Other players returning from last year’s World Juniors are
Sonny Milano, Brandon Carlo, Ryan Collins, Nick Schmaltz, Zach Werenski, Brandon Halverson and Alex Nedeljkovic. Meanwhile, Louie Belpedio, Anders Bjork, Collins, Brandon Fortunato, Ryan Hitchcock and Matthews helped Team USA win the U18 world title in 2014.
Like Matthews, Werenski said he also expects to use last year’s World Junior experience to take on a larger leadership role, mentoring the new group that includes the U18 gold-medal winners.
“A lot of guys won gold with the 18 team last year,” he said. “I’m sure that gives them a lot of confidence. They know that they can play, and being out there [on Tuesday] they can play, they just need to go out there and do it. I’m sure that’s a big confidence builder.
“Carlo and Collins have experience with us on D. Our new players are developing and playing their game. It’s good to see.”
Werenski’s biggest takeaway, however, was the sting of last year’s fifth-place finish in Canada. He said a repeat is not an option.
“We can’t come home without hardware,” Werenski said. “I learned that from last year. Fifth place wasn’t good enough. Coming home with a medal is definitely on our mind.
“If I make the team, having experience I want to be more of a leader. I want to come home with a medal, so I’m going to do what it takes in order to do that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
|Date||Opponent||Location||Result||U.S. Player of the Game|
|Sat., Dec. 26||Canada||Helsinki Ice Hall||W, 4-2||Colin White|
|Mon., Dec. 28||Sweden||Helsinki Ice Hall||L, 0-1||Zach Werenski|
|Wed., Dec. 30||Switzerland||Helsinki Ice Hall||W, 10-1||Auston Matthews|
|Thu., Dec. 31||Denmark||Helsinki Ice Hall||W, 4-1||Brandon Carlo|
|Sat., Jan. 2||Czech Republic
|Helsinki Ice Hall||W, 7-0||Nick Schmaltz|
|Mon., Jan. 4||Russia
|Hartwall Arena||L, 1-2||Christian Dvorak|
|Tues. , Jan. 5||Sweden
Bronze Medal Game
|Hartwall Arena||W, 8-3||Anders Bjork|