Ready Or Not

As Players Compete For Roster Spots On World Junior Team, U.S. Coaches Look To Instill A Sense Of Team Chemistry

Once a player is named to the U.S. National Junior Team preliminary roster, their focus turns to making the team by any means necessary. 

 

“I just want to play my game and focus on my process,” said Jack Drury, who is bidding for a forward spot on the U.S. National Junior Team roster. “I’ll just do whatever I can to help the team while I’m there and hopefully that’s enough to push me onto the roster.”

 

The U.S. squad traveled to Kamloops, B.C., after spending its first three days of camp in Everett, Wash., at Angel of the Winds Arena.

 

The group will train at Sandman Center from Dec. 18-20, which is the same arena that played host to the World Junior Summer Showcase. The process of selecting this team began there back in August.

 

The WJSS, previously referred to as the National Junior Evaluation Camp, provides the perfect opportunity to build a solid foundation ahead of the World Junior Championship. Not only does it allow the coaches to implement a team culture and style of play they’d like to incorporate once the team reconvenes four months later, it also gives them time to evaluate the players off the ice, as well.

 

"Our camp this past summer was certainly a stepping stone toward building that team chemistry and identity," said head coach Mike Hastings, whose full-time job is as head coach of the Minnesota State

 Mikey Anderson is one of five returners from the 2018 U.S. WJC team that won a bronze medal in Buffalo.Mikey Anderson is one of five returners from the 2018 U.S. WJC team that won a bronze medal in Buffalo.

Dylan Samberg and Mikey Anderson are two blue liners vying to return to the U.S. defense after serving on last year’s bronze-medal winning team at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. The two, both players from the University of Minnesota Duluth, the defending NCAA National Champions, agreed that the summer showcase helps set the table for the U.S. squad to perform at its best once the puck drops on Dec. 26.

 

“We had a good time out there (in Kamloops), we all enjoyed it,” Samberg said. “Especially to come back in December, it was really huge to get to know some of those guys and how they play. I really feel like that helps us.”

 

Anderson echoed that sentiment.

 

“It’s a big part of the selection process for USA Hockey,” he said. “Not only trying to showcase what you can do, but building the relationships with the staff. Most importantly with all the guys, you come together in December so it’s a quick transition to the tournament. You have to gel together fast and the summer showcase is a good step to that.”

 

Samberg and Anderson know that just because they made the cut last year doesn’t solidify their spot on this year’s team, but they hope the chemistry they’ve developed with the Bulldogs will help in their bids.

 

"We've made it very clear to this team that an invite to that camp means nothing in the final roster,” Hastings said. “That's just one part of the evaluation process, this is another, and as you've seen over the years, players get invited to that camp and don't make this team, while others who maybe weren't invited or in the mix in the summer make a name for themselves come December.”

 

So how important is it to be at the showcase to make the team? It helps, but it’s not the be all, end all.

 

A total of 42 players attended the showcase in August. From there 29 were named to the preliminary roster, including six who weren’t at the showcase — defenders Michael Callahan, Ty Emberson, Jack St. Ivany and K’Andre Miller, as well as forwards Tyler Madden and Sammy Walker.

 

Like in years past, with Jack Eichel in 2014, Ryan Donato in 2016 or Patrick Harper in 2017, players not at the showcase in August have parlayed strong starts this season to propel themselves into the discussion. Of course, others who did attend camp are hoping the positive impression they made over the summer will buy them a second look from the coaches after a slow start.

 K'Andre Miller has become a force on the Badgers' blue-line.K'Andre Miller has become a force on the Badgers' blue-line.

The New York Rangers’ 22ndoverall selection of the 2018 NHL Draft, K’Andre Miller is one example as the National Team Development Program product has had a promising start to his college career after not attending the showcase due to an illness. The St. Paul, Minn., native leads all NCAA freshman blue liners in points (17) and assists (13).

 

“Making it here to Kamloops for training camp after not being able to participate during the World Junior Summer Showcase is definitely an accomplishment for me personally,” Miller said. “You work so hard to get this opportunity because World Juniors is definitely one of the tournaments you want to be in as a little kid. Getting here and getting the opportunity to play for my country again is pretty special.”

 

Conversely, Jay O’Brien, who had a phenomenal summer showcase, has battled through injuries and has mustered a goal and an assist through 10 games at Providence College. 

 

For everyone, it’s do-or-die time as the team prepares for a pair of exhibition contests this week against Russia (Dec. 20) and the Czech Republic (Dec. 22). At this point the summer showcase is little more than a footnote in the crafting of this team that soon will embark on its quest for a fourth-straight medal when the puck drops in Vancouver and Victoria. 

 

Now it’s time for the players to prove they deserve to be here.

 

“Players play themselves on to this team," Hastings said.

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