A year after a disappointing seventh-place finish at the IIHF 2012 World Junior Championships, USA Hockey has retooled for this year's tournament in Ufa, Russia with a new group of players ready to take on some of the world's best.
On Tuesday, USA Hockey announced its preliminary roster that will attend training camp on Dec. 16-18 at the New York Rangers' Madison Square Garden Training Center in Tarrytown, N.Y. The 27 players will then attend camp in Helsinki, Finland before the final 23-man roster is announced on Dec. 23.
"We want to give the players an opportunity to show themselves in New York and Helsinki," said head coach Phil Housley. "You have to earn your spot. Nothing is ever given and that creates a lot of fire and competitiveness, which we're going to have to have going into this tournament."
The U.S. roster will feature three goalies, seven defensemen and 13 forwards when the squad faces off against Germany on Dec. 27.
As the 27 players, including 24 NHL draft picks, compete to make the final roster there will be three players that Housley and Jim Johannson, general manager of the 2013 U.S. National Junior Team, can rely upon to provide this year's squad with leadership and wisdom.
J.T. Miller, (University of Michigan/CCHA), John Gibson (Kitchener Rangers/OHL) and Jacob Trouba (Connecticut Whale/AHL) all were members of last year's squad, and Housley believes those players will take the ice with an edge.
"They've been through it. They've been through the grind," Housley said. "They know how difficult it can be. I think they want to improve upon their play of last year. Sort of a little bit of a redemption thing."
Miller scored two goals in last year's tournament, both on the power play, and the 2011 first round pick (15th overall) of the N.Y. Rangers is the only player on the preliminary roster currently playing professionally. He has two goals and six assists in 20 games for the Whale.
The East Palenstine, Ohio native has made strides since making the jump to the American Hockey League, but Housley was also impressed by Miller's leadership role during the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., this summer.
"Miller has been great in Lake Placid and is coming into a leadership role now," Housley said. "He is going to have to be one of those character guys that picks up our team when we face adversity or keep them calm when we are playing well."
Currently, Gibson is having a solid season for Kitchener with 12 wins, a .932 save percentage and a 2.20 goals-against average. Last year he allowed four goals in his only appearance against. The 2011 second round pick (39th overall) of the Anaheim Ducks led the U.S. to the title at the 2010 World 17-Under Challenge.
"It's also great to have a goaltender with international experience," Housley said.
"He has seen the speed and pace of the game. That is really important going into this tournament."
Trouba, the 2012 first round draft pick (ninth overall) of the Winnipeg Jets, has been a staple point on the Wolverine blue line this season with four goals and six assists. The 6-foot-1 defenseman registered two assists during last year's World Junior Championships.
Johannson said USA Hockey organized this year's squad primarily based on speed, skating, size and grit which will be necessarily to succeed come tournament time; many qualities that can be found in the three returners from last year.
"In the end this tournament is about playing six or seven games, and for us this year, in 10 nights," Johannson said. "You have to build a team that can survive that type of schedule and secondly thrive at the end where you all want to get to. You better be big and strong with some skill at the end because that's what you're going to play against."