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
“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.