Marc Boxer is like a project engineer.
He surveys the terrain, picks the design and turns the elements over to a foreman to complete the project.
But as the director of junior hockey for USA Hockey, he is constantly having to rebuild the same house as players quickly graduate to a higher level in the sport.
His latest project is the U.S. Junior Select Team that is participating in the World Junior A Challenge from Dec. 9-16 in Bonnyville, Alberta. Boxer is the team’s general manager.
“I really enjoy seeing coaches, staff members and players get a chance to play for their country and see the excitement they have and success they have, that’s the really special thing,” Boxer said.
As in most years, all 22 players on the team come from the United States Hockey League, the lone Tier I junior league in the U.S. Team USA has a pre-tournament exhibition game against Canada East on Dec. 7, then begins tournament play on Dec. 9 against Canada West. Russia and the Czech Republic are the other teams competing in the event. The U.S. has won the tournament seven times in the 11 years it has participated.
Having selected players for this team for the last 10 years, Boxer’s process has evolved, but his competitiveness has remained the same. He is very excited to see this year’s roster in action, a roster that was selected with the help of his staff and multiple NHL scouts.
“I like that we have a lot of guys who can play anywhere in the lineup,” said Boxer, noting the forward group and in particular centers as being all-around players. “Everybody plays on the power play [on their USHL team] and kills penalties. They’re obviously top players on their teams, so I think we have a very versatile group. I think in years past, we had some guys who were higher-end draft picks. A lot of these guys are going to emerge and surprise people in a big way.”
That gets back to the construction process. None of the players on this year’s roster were on the Junior Select Team last year, but several do have experience playing for USA Hockey.
“What we try to do with this is build. We want to build up,” Boxer said. “This team provides kids with an avenue to wear the jersey and a lot of them get to wear the jersey at the next level. Last year’s team, there are a lot of kids that are in the mix for the world junior team. This roster that we currently have, next year a lot of kids will be in world junior camp and some will be on the team.”
“We’re expected to be a front-runner. We’re expected to win,” Boxer said of current expectations.
Skill wasn’t the only factor that determined who was selected for this roster.
“That was another area we would talk about with these players. Character and what kind of kid they are, that played a big role in the selection of players as well,” Boxer said. “There are a lot of good players in the league. We wanted to make sure they were good, versatile hockey players with strong character.”
Much like the players, this team is also a chance for up-and-coming coaches to get a shot leading a national team. Boxer’s foreman for this project is Anthony Noreen, the coach and general manager for the USHL’s Tri-City Storm who was an assistant in 2013 and last year for this tournament.
“I was just impressed with how he handled himself and how he goes about his business and goes about his craft,” Boxer said of what he gained by watching Noreen in his two previous stints with the Junior Select Team. “It just made a lot of sense to put Anthony in place as the next head coach.”
With four first-place finishes in the last six tournaments, Team USA will look to continue its success when they travel to Alberta in early December.
“Every time you get on the ice, every time you compete, you want to win,” Boxer said. “We want to win. We want to have success.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.