As the U.S. National Junior Team prepares for the 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship that begins next week, all involved are hoping that experience can lift the U.S. to a fifth gold medal in tournament history.
In particular are the five potential returnees from last year’s bronze medal-winning team. On home ice in Buffalo, N.Y., last year, forwards Ryan Poehling and Josh Norris and defensemen Mikey Anderson, Quinn Hughes and Dylan Samberg helped the U.S. secure its third-straight medal in the event – an unprecedented feat.
But while the accomplishment of a third-straight U.S. medal in the event is historic, it wasn’t golden, and that’s the goal entering 2019. With one IIHF World Junior Championship experience under their belt, the five returnees hope that experience – and its disappointment – helps fuel a golden effort this year.
“I think it’s huge,” Anderson said. “This tournament happens quick. We have five guys that were on the team last year so if everyone ends up back on the team again this year, it’s nice to have a few guys who have gone through it who can kind of lead the way and show everyone what’s going to happen.”
The days leading up to the start of the tournament in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, are about building the team chemistry required to compete at the highest level.
Mikey Anderson leaves the ice following warmups ahead of a preliminary round game against Finland at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“It’s a great opportunity ahead of us,” Poehling said. “With the skill we’ve got and the team we’ve got, it’s a matter of coming together. We need to rely on each other and trust one another, and not only play with each other but play for each other. I think that’s the biggest thing. If we can do that throughout the next three weeks, we’ll be able to live with the results.”
Poehling had three points (one goal, two assists) in seven games in the tournament last year and learned what it takes to get through the grind of so many games in a short period of time.
He’s hopeful that experience can help his teammates prepare for it this year.
“It’s a lot,” Poehling said. “You’ve got to take care of your body. I mean, none of us really play seven games in a matter of 10, 11 days with our regular teams. So for us, it’s take care of your body, get the right sleep, hydrate yourself, all of those little things that kind of add up. If everyone can buy into that, it helps in the long run for the team.”
Team USA has claimed 11 medals in the IIHF World Junior Championship, including four gold medals (2017, 2013, 2010, 2004). Team USA’s rich history of success in this tournament is something Anderson and the rest of the group don’t take lightly.
“You watch teams do it growing up, you’ve seen some of the really good teams that have come through and won for the United States,” Anderson said. “Just kind of thinking about the opportunity to be able to win it and get a gold medal, it gives you chills just thinking about it. Everyone knows what’s at stake here and how big of a deal this tournament really is. I think everyone’s just excited to be a part of it and get the tournament going.”
With only days remaining before the start of the tournament, the confidence to compete for a gold medal is there.
The players who were around for the bronze medal last year are happy they were able to help represent their country and come away with a medal. However, they know there is unfinished business left for them to complete.
“It’s an honor in itself to compete for USA Hockey, but at the end of the day the main goal is to go out there and win a gold medal,” Poehling said. “Last year, we ended up winning bronze, which is good for your country, but you don’t go to a tournament wanting a third-place trophy. So for us to go out there and compete, I think we’ve got a great chance at it this year, and if we can do the little things and grow as a team I think we’ll like where we end up at the end of this tournament.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.