College Hockey:
Americans bring plenty of new faces to World Juniors year after disappointment

Only three players return from the team that missed the medal round.

There are few, if any, inside the USA Hockey organization that can say they were pleased with the Americans’ performance at the 2012 IIHF World Under-20 Championship last winter.

Coming off back-to-back World Juniors medal performances, the U.S. failed to reach the medal round in Alberta, finishing a disappointing seventh.

U.S. at the World Juniors

At Ufa Arena, Ufa, Russia

Thursday, Dec. 27: U.S. 8, Germany 0

Friday, Dec. 28: Russia 2, U.S. 1

Sunday, Dec. 30: Canada 2, U.S. 1

Monday, Dec. 31: U.S. 9, Slovakia 3

Wednesday, Jan. 2: Quarterfinals: U.S. 7, Czech Republic 0

Thursday, Jan. 3: Semifinals: U.S. 5, Canada 1

Saturday, Jan. 5: Gold-medal game: U.S. 3, Sweden 1

Thus, when team general manager Jim Johannson set out to put together his roster to send to Ufa, Russia, for this year’s tournament, which kicks off Thursday against Germany (9 a.m. EST, NHL Network), he had to find players who brought a certain quality to the table.

“I like using the words performance and accountability,” Johannson said. “It’s a tournament about performance and there’s only a small margin of error in the tournament because there are so many skilled players. The scorers have to score, the defenders have to defend and the goalies have to stop pucks.

“You have to have guys who are willing to play whatever role is asked of them in the tournament, and that can change throughout the tournament.”

Only three players remain on the roster from last year’s team: goaltender John Gibson, who will be the likely No. 1, at least to begin; Michigan defenseman Jacob Trouba; and NHL forward J.T. Miller.

That leaves a significant number of roster spots for newcomers. Leading that bunch will be some talented collegiate players, three of whom last season gained valuable postseason experience in reaching the NCAA Frozen Four. Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and Minnesota blueliner Mike Reilly will be joined by Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau, last season’s Frozen Four most outstanding player.

With Gostisbehere, Johannson feels he is a getting a seasoned player, despite the that this is his first appearance on the major stage of World Juniors.

“He’s a wonderful hockey player and a good skater. He’s a good passer and puck mover,” Johannson said. “He’s played a lot of minutes and played at the Frozen Four. I look at the repetition he’s gotten and it’s made a much more mature player.”

For Gaudreau the praise goes even higher and Johannson knows that this team will depend on him along with another pint-sized forward in North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi, to create much of this team’s offense.

“I’m hesitant to say that they’re too small because they keep on scoring,” Johannson said. “I’ve been waiting for [their size] to catch up to them at every level and all the way up, they’ve scored. They’ve been dynamic offensively.

“They’re small but they’re very sturdy players. I think they’re going to be exciting for hockey fans in this tournament.”

Back to the blue line, though still remaining in the vertically challenged department, Johannson says he has really liked the play of Boston University rookie Matt Grzelcyk. A Boston Bruins draft choice, Grzelcyk stands only 5-foot-9, but Johannson is convinced he plays much stronger and taller.

“He plays bigger,” Johannson said. “He’s strong on the puck and a dynamic skater. He can play in all situations and sees the ice well.”

He also said that Grzelcyk might be the most feisty player the U.S. has on its blue line.

“If you put a puck in the corner, we like the chance that [Grzelcyk] will come away with the puck,” Johannson said.

One player on the U.S. defense who is not small is 6-foot-2 Trouba. He’s expected to be a mainstay on the blue line and should see some significant special teams time.

“When we look at this tournament at the end it’s about big, strong and skilled,” Johannson said, “and that defines Jacob Trouba.”

A player that throughout the pre-tournament camp has played alongside the talented Gaudreau is Notre Dame’s Mario Lucia, son of Minnesota coach Don Lucia. It’s quite possible that Gaudreau and Lucia, along with Alex Galchenyuk of the Sarnia Sting, could comprise the Americans’ top line.

“He’s a bigger body than I think people understand,” Johannson said of the 6-foot-2 Lucia. “He’s shown flashes of being opportunistic. When we get the man advantage or a two-on-one, he’s been the guy who shows he can finish.”

Providence’s Jon Gillies is likely to be the top backup to Gibson in goal. He earned the victory in Team USA’s 3-2 overtime victory over Sweden in pre-tournament play.

“He’s earned his way here,” Johannson said. “[Gillies] has had a great start to his freshman year at Providence. As we head into the tournament, performance dictates. We have to do our job to have him prepared to play if the opportunity is there.”

In total, 14 of the 23 players on the final roster, which won’t be completely announced until Wednesday due to a last-minute decision related to an undisclosed injured player’s ability to play, are expected to be from the college ranks. Included in that list is Wisconsin blueliner Jake McCabe, who will captain the club.

One area won’t be represented by a college program as it normally is: head coach. A coach at Stillwater (Minn.) High School, Phil Housley was selected for the World Junior job for, among many reasons, his incredible composure.

“The energy level [at World Juniors] is there and the excitement is there and there are times you have to guardedly tap that down a little bit and get some calm play out of the skilled players,” Johannson said. “That may have defined Phil Housley’s career and we hope that can rub off on some guys here.”

If in the process, the U.S. can escape Russia with a medal — preferably gold — there will be plenty of happy faces among the USA Hockey contingent.

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  • Chrisgal

    Watched both pre-tournament games. Looked ok vs. Sweden, bad against Finland. Think top line’s gonna be Grimaldi-Miller-Gaudreau. Ray Ferraro mentioned at beginning of Sweden game that U.S. top line and defense pairing weren’t playing. That would be above three along with Trouba and Jones……

  • hockey7a

    Mike Reilly is a Freshman at Minnesota and did not play in the Frozen Four last spring. The Gophers Travis Boyd did and he was on the World Junior roster last year as well. He should be this year too.

  • http://profiles.google.com/scottcmartineau SCOTT MARTINEAU

    Phil Housley showed how green he is to the international game when he allowed himself to let media and Monday Morning quarterbacks to convince him Sieloff would be a better fit for this team than Grzelcyk, who has done EVERYTHING he has ever been asked to do since joining the USNTDP several years ago. Conventional Wisdom was that the final roster would be chosen from the lads who were playing in the Finland game. USA offense came out flat, took foolish penalties, and Housley deserves credit for sending the Hot Headed Mattau home and replacing him with a smarter player with almost no drop in talent in Jimmy Vesey. Vesey’s childhood Charlestown neighborhood pal, however, got screwed and did nothing that should or would have cost him the seventh Defenseman slot which he had secured from his work over the summer, his great first half of the season, and the great camp he had in mid December.

    The USA went into the Finland game with their Defensive Corps already decided. Grzelcyk – being the only defenseman on the roster who was not six ft plus and also being so versatile that he can hop on the first, second, or third line at Right or Left defense without skipping a beat – suddenly was being held off from being named to the seventh spot because of an injury to Connor Murphy. The USA wanted to see if Murphy (who was named to team 4 days before first game with no reason given as to why) was healthy enough to go, and if he was CW was that as had been planned all along Grzelcyk would be back for the all important Russia matchup – especially important because not unlike his Charlestown compatriot of 33 years ago, neither Grzelcyk NOR OC are intimidated by anybody. But after USA beat Germany 8-0 you started hearing whispers that this USA team is a team that needs size on defense and the last thing they need is a creative, stick-handling Defenseman and suddenly their was talk that Sieloff, who was at best clearly the 8th rated Defensemen (USA GM Jim Johannson said the following regarding Grzelcyk’s skill set only 2 weeks ago: ““He plays bigger,” Johannson said of the 5;9″ 2012 Boston Bruin Draft Pick whose dad is a 20 year veteran of the Bull Gang that puts the ice down at the Garden.. “He’s strong on the puck and a dynamic skater. He can play in all situations and sees the ice well.” He also said that Grzelcyk might be the most feisty player the U.S. has on its blue line. “If you put a puck in the corner, we like the chance that [Grzelcyk] will come away with the puck,”

    So by all accounts with a healthy Murphy cleared Grzylcek, the most valued Defenseman in Red White & Blue and short in his skill set of only Jones and Maybe Trouba, was expected to get the call prior to the Russia game. Instead, Housley after feeling overconfident after an 8-0 thrashing of a lousy Germany team, listened to too many would-be coaches whispering in his ear that you can never have too much size on Defense and Grzelcyk MAY take an unnecessary chance on the PP or on penalty kill. So what happens, he goes with a 4th tier talent in Sieloff who has size but not only cannot play anywhere near the level of Trouba or Jones, but is also nowhere near the second tier big defensemen like Reilly and / or McCabe, and the 3rd tier is Ebonics favorite Shayne Gostisbehere paired with Connor Murphy. Had the USA had Grzylcek today and I have heard this NOT from BU fans but fans of USA WJC hockey, He stems the bad penalties, he finishes off at least one offensive rush, and instead of losing 2 to 1 USA would have won 2 to 1 or at worst tied 1-1 or 2-2. They needed Grzelcyk badly quarterbacking the PP and as the Chris Drury/Ryan Bourque/Dave Warsofsky energy guy that has been missing from World Juniors since we won Gold in 2010.

    So Phil Housley handicapped his team severely by naming six Defensemen too early and then stringing two along when it was clear that the one the team needed was waiting to take over games the way he had for Team USA for over two years and as he had done the first half of the season for the BU Terriers.

    Yes, the USA are still alive, but they lost an important game they should have won at Russia today essentially turning Canada into a must win during regulation and making Team USA attempt to do just that with one hand tied behind its back as their most versatile Defenseman was left off the roster for a sixth Defenseman who is at least Six Two but very limited offensively.

    • Chrisgal

      Scott- I also thought Grzelcyk should have made team. Saw enough of him in 3 games vs BC to know how skilled he is and how he would help any team’s pp. But I also will admit to not knowing much about the other D going into the tournament. Just a couple questions for you- Are you a Boston/Townie guy? BU guy? Friend of the family? Seems you have more than just a passing rooting interest in this. Also, I think you’re reference above to “33 years ago….. OC” means Jack O”Callahan? Yes? And lastly, 2nd paragraph, eighth line, “…..and if he was CW…..” No idea what CW means? Please help……

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