USA Hockey scored big this past weekend when a quartet of U.S. hockey teams captured tournament championships around the world.
The U.S. National Under-18 Team, National U-17 Team and the Women's National Team each won its respective Four Nations Tournament crowns, while the U.S. Junior Select Team captured the World Junior A Challenge title.
It marks the first time USA Hockey has had champions in each tournament in the same year. According to USA Hockey, the country did celebrate three of the four tournament titles in 2008, '09, '10 and '11.
"It's a great accomplishment to win any international tournament, so to see all four of our teams claim championships is remarkable," said Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations. "It continues to show the depth not only that we have across the country at a wide variety of levels, but also show the player development that's taking place in different leagues and different places."
Johannson admitted he wasn't surprised by the success of each team.
"I say that with respect for all the champions, but I honestly thought going in that all of the teams were going to be right in the mix to do it," Johannson told NHL.com. "I do think one of the big things that's been a big emphasis for us overall is getting over the hump and closing out championships. In two of the tournaments, our teams lost a game during the competition but won the games in the end."
Johannson is hopeful that the big victories are a prelude to future success at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, which begins after Christmas.
"You want to keep on building and the expectation to win," he said. "I know all of our programs do go in with the expectation to win and there's a high level of competition that feels the same way. But I think the days of the U.S. just showing up at a championship to compete are gone. It's more about going to the high level championships to win and you cherish all the times you do win it and have an appreciation of how hard it is to do that."
The U.S. will conduct its National Junior Team selection camp at the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh, N.Y., the New York Rangers' practice facility, on Dec. 16-18. Johannson told NHL.com that he expects 27 players to be invited to selection camp -- that group could include 15 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. The camp will be used to determine the final 22-man roster for the 2013 World Junior Championship, which will be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2013. Seven-time NHL All-Star and U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley will coach the team.
Johannson said there may be some players invited to selection camp who weren't a part of USA Hockey's evaluation camp in August.
"Without a doubt, some guys have played their way into consideration and have done a good job," he said. "It's not hard to look at some stats and see who those guys are doing. I won't name names, but some guys that played well at camp have backed that up, and some haven't quite had as strong a start. Guys have to be playing well but there's also the uniqueness of guys hurt or suspended that we need to take into account."
The U.S. is coming off a seventh-place finish at the 2012 WJC after entering the tournament with its usual high expectations. Successive preliminary-round setbacks to Finland, Czech Republic and Canada knocked the U.S. team out of medal contention for the first time in 13 years. The team needed a 12-2 victory against Latvia in the opening game of the relegation round in order to earn a ticket to the 2013 WJC. The seventh-place finish was the lowest for Team USA at the WJC since finishing eighth in 1999.
Here's a recap of USA Hockey's four tournament titles:
U.S. Women's National Team
The Americans earned their second straight Four Nations Cup championship by beating Canada 3-0 in the tournament final on Saturday in Vantaa, Finland. The team was led by Hilary Knight, who had six goals, and Amanda Kessel, who contributed a goal and five assists.
Kessel, who stars for the No. 1-ranked University of Minnesota women's hockey team, is the sister of Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel. Jessie Vetter was in goal when the U.S. beat Finland 15-1 and Canada 3-0 in its final two games of the tournament. Vetter was a member of the 2008-09 University of Wisconsin women's team that captured the NCAA title. The U.S. rebounded from a 3-1 loss to Canada in the second game of the tournament.
"I'm very happy as to how our team came together this week,” U.S. women's coach Katey Stone said. "We played tough, we played smart, we made some adjustments, we had great goaltending and we played strong [defensively]. I'm happy and proud of how [we] played."
U.S. Junior Select Team
The team defeated defending champion Canada West 6-3 on Sunday to win the 2012 World Junior A Challenge in Yarmouth, N.S. Team captain Vince Hinostroza led all players in scoring in the tournament with six goals while tying for the lead with eight points. The U.S. outscored the opposition 26-11 in its four-game sweep to the championship.
"Anytime you can go into Canada and win a championship by beating a Canadian team, it is an impressive accomplishment," Johannson told NHL.com. "To show that dominance in Canada is really impressive."
The 5-9, 165-pound Hinostroza, who is committed to the University of Notre Dame for the fall of 2013, was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the sixth round of the 2012 NHL Draft. Hinostroza, who plays for the Waterloo Blackhawks of the United States Hockey League, had two goals and two assists in the championship game against Canada West, was named to the all-tournament team and was the event's most valuable player. Defenseman Ian Brady of the USHL's Cedar Rapids Rough Riders finished with eight assists and was also named to the all-tournament team. Waterloo Blackhawks goalie Eamon McAdam, who is regarded as a top prospect for the 2013 NHL Draft, finished 4-0 with a 2.18 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
"We got goals from our big scorers, everyone blocked shots and our goaltender [McAdam] made key saves," U.S. coach Brett Larson said. "I thought the turning point of the game was killing the five-on-three in the third period. We stayed composed and disciplined and stuck to our plan to play as a team and it paid off. I'm extremely proud of this group."
U.S. National U-18 Team
The U.S. received goals from three players en route to a 3-1 victory against in the championship game of the U18 Four Nations Tournament at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube in Michigan on Saturday. It was the fifth straight title for the Americans at the Four Nations Tournament.
Tyler Kelleher of the U-18 U.S. National Team Development Program led the way with six points, including two goals. Anthony Louis (USNTDP) had three goals and five points for the United States, which rebounded after a 5-4 shootout loss to Switzerland in its second game. Goalie Thatcher Demko (USNTDP) finished 3-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .939 save percentage. Demko made 22 saves in the tournament final against Sweden, and was promptly named the U.S. Player of the Game.
"I'm proud of how we played as a team throughout the entire tournament," said U.S. coach Don Granato, who also coaches the U-18 NTDP. "We need to build off these games and continue to improve as we move forward."
U.S. National U-17 Team
The Under-17 Team defeated Switzerland 6-1 on Sunday to claim the 2012 U-17 Four Nations Tournament in Monthey, Switzerland. Anders Bjork, who is committed to Notre Dame, had three goals and two assists in the championship triumph. Goalie Edwin Minney, who has given a verbal commitment to Michigan State, finished 2-1-0 with a 2.88 GAA and .887 save percentage for the Americans. The U.S. outscored the opposition 17-7 in three tournament victories.
"The team played very well today and skated hard the whole 60 minutes," U.S. coach Danton Cole said. "It was a successful tournament for the guys and we'll look to carry this momentum with us moving forward."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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