Time Out With Mattias Samuelsson

Not long after the U.S. National Junior Team arrived in Ostrava, Czech, veteran defenseman Mattias Samuelsson sat down with USA Hockey Magazine. Several days later, the Voorhees, N.J., native was named the captain for the U.S. squad as it guns for its fifth straight medal at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.

USA Hockey Magazine: You’ve made the long trip to Ostrava after several days at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., where you had several days of practice. How does the team look so far?

 

Mattias Samuelsson: We look really good. Obviously, there’s a lot of skill in this group and a lot of talent but I think just seeing everyone out on the ice together in those days together at USA shows we’ve got a good crew.

 

USAH Mag: This is a great time of year with the World Juniors about to get under way and you’re no stranger to this tournament and no stranger to international competition in general. How do you think that helps you get ready, personally, for a tournament of this magnitude?

 

MS: I think just playing internationally before, you kind of know what to expect and having gone through it before it’s good if your team finishes in the playoffs but when you have something like the World Juniors, it’s the biggest stage for international tournaments at this age, especially when you go overseas.

 

USAH Mag: At this stage, you have a lot of talented players that are competing for a few roster spots. Is it a challenge to balance the competition with also trying to develop that team chemistry during these types of on-ice sessions?

 

MS: Yeah. I mean, there’s so many talented players coming together and I think one of the biggest things for this tournament is, maybe you’re not going to play the same role that you play on your team during the normal season. You might be asked to play a different role by the coaching staff. But I think everyone sees the bigger picture and everyone’s here to help the U.S. win a gold medal. It’s an adjustment at first but at the end of the day, everyone wants to be here to represent their country.

 

USAH Mag: You log a lot of minutes playing for the Broncos up in Western Michigan. With so many talented teammates and defensemen on this squad, have you been told what your role may be? Will your minutes go down and, if so, does that change the way you play your game in any way?

 

MS: No, I haven’t been really told too much what my role is going to be. But, like I said, you may not be asked to play the same roles as you do for your college team or that you play during the regular season but I’m perfectly okay with that. I’m here to win a gold medal and help this team win in any way that I can.

 

USAH Mag: Speaking of that, this is your second World Juniors. Last year, you helped the U.S. win a silver medal up in Vancouver. What did you learn from playing in the tournament last year that you think is going to help you this time around?

 

MS: I think that going through it before you see how big of a stage it is and how you need to take care of yourself throughout the tournament. Obviously, it’s a long tournament and there are a lot of games in a short amount of time. All the competition is very skilled and very challenging so, every game is huge and just making sure you’re there for every game and ready to go.

 

USAH Mag: The puck drops on this tournament on Dec. 26 and you get a very tough opponent in Canada. What are your thoughts about opening a tournament against not only such a touch opponent but an opponent that you guys have such a history playing against?

 

MS: It’ll be special. With a team like Canada, it’ll be something to remember for a long time and I think it’s a great start for us as well. We get right in there and jump into the competition.

 

USAH Mag: There’s no easy games at World Juniors but would you rather face an opponent like Canada to start off or would you maybe want to play someone like Germany?

 

MS: I think there are no weak teams in this tournament, personally. We play two exhibition games this year and I think those are a lot of feeling around, seeing where guys will fit so when we get into that first game, we’re ready to go and ready as a team. For me personally, I enjoy Canada being the first game. 

 

USAH Mag: What’s it like as a defenseman to be playing in front of a goalie as talented as Spencer Knight?

 

MS: Playing in front of him, it’s pretty nice to have him back there. If you make a mistake or anything, he’s going to bail you out. Honestly, he’s an unbelievable goalie. It just raises the confidence of the team knowing you’ve got a guy back there that’s the backbone of your team, he’s a leader off the ice, great guy off the ice and respects everybody. I mean, I think anyone would want a guy like that in goal behind you.

 

USAH Mag: And can you talk about some of the forwards that you have? I mean that must make your job a little easier having such dynamic forwards who are so offensively gifted.

 

MS: Yeah, we’ve got a really talented group. You know, guys like Oliver Wahlstrom who play in the AHL that are coming back for this tournament. That obviously helps us a lot. You know he can score goals; you know he has the skill. I mean, there’s a lot of high draft picks as well. High profile players up front so that’s also going to help.

 

USAH Mag: This tournament obviously takes place over the holidays, so you guys are all sacrificing a lot to represent your country but you’re also spending the holidays with a lot of guys that you’ve known for many years. Do you guys have any plans to celebrate Christmas?

 

MS: I’m sure about plans this year, I haven’t heard any yet. But I know last year we did a little Christmas party with the team and the staff. We’re all here and, obviously, the coaches don’t get to be with their kids and things like that so, it was nice for everyone. Last year, we did a dinner and we had some presents and it was a good bonding moment for our team just to spend the night together and celebrate the holidays. 

 

USAH Mag: Absolutely. Well, I want to thank you again for taking the time to talk to us and we wish you a very merry Christmas and best of luck in this tournament.

 

MS: Alright, Merry Christmas to you as well, thank you.

Q & A With Mattias Samuelsson

Q & A With Mattias Samuelsson

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