Slowly but surely, the U.S. National Junior Team that will participate in the 2013 World Junior Championship is taking shape.
On Sunday morning in Helsinki, Finland, U.S. general manager Jim Johannson and his staff announced the release of two players, including defenseman Brady Skjei of the University of Minnesota and forward Stefan Matteau of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Johannson will need to cut one more defenseman to get his roster to the required 23-man unit. According to reports, the U.S. managerial team is awaiting medical reports on an undisclosed player before making a final decision, which should be made Sunday.
The roster currently includes 13 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies, including one emergency backup in case of injury.
"We are very close to finalizing our group of defensemen, pending the resolution of a medical situation," Johannson said in a statement. "We are set with our 13 forwards and three goaltenders. The decisions we made [Sunday] were very difficult and are a testament to the talent available to us in the United States."
In a 5-1 loss to Finland in a pre-competition contest on Saturday, U.S. coach Phil Housley listed defensemen Skjei and Patrick Sieloff, forward Jim Vesey, and goalie Garret Sparks as healthy scratches.
Matteau was assessed a two-minute penalty and a game-misconduct for a hit to the head at the 3:40 mark of the third period on Saturday against Finland. The ensuing power play led to a Finland goal at the 5:02 mark. Matteau, a first-round draft pick (No. 29 overall) of the New Jersey Devils last June, finished the game with 4:36 of ice time for the United States.
The Americans are coming off a seventh-place finish at the 2012 WJC, its worst showing since finishing eighth in 1999.
The 2013 WJC will run Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia. All preliminary-round games for the U.S. and Canada will be played at the 7,950-seat Ufa Arena. The U.S. and Canada will join Slovakia, Germany and host Russia in the Group B field. Defending gold medalist Sweden, which scored a 1-0 overtime victory against Russia in last year's final, heads the Group A field, with Finland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Latvia.
Among those returnees from last year's WJC team are goalie John Gibson of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers, defenseman Jacob Trouba of the University of Michigan and forward J.T. Miller of the Connecticut Whale in the American Hockey League.
There are two promising 2013 draft prospects remaining on the roster -- defenseman Seth Jones of the WHL's Portland Winterhawks and forward Ryan Hartman of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. Jones, rated No. 1 among WHL skaters in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary league rankings, will serve as captain for Team Orr at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Jan. 16.
Central Scouting has Hartman No. 11 among skaters in the OHL. The 5-foot-11, 187-pound versatile forward has struck for 11 goals and 27 points in 26 games for Plymouth this season.
"I'm going to do whatever I can to elevate my game and see where I can go [at the 2013 Draft]," Hartman told NHL.com. "I just want to enjoy this experience."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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