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Taylor pleased with last workouts before Europe trip

Tuesday, 12.18.2012 / 4:02 PM
Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Tim Taylor knows a thing or two about the difficult task of putting together a roster for an international event.

In addition to serving as the current USA Hockey director of player personnel for the National Junior Team that will compete at the 2013 World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia, later this month, Taylor has a long history as a veteran of two Olympic Winter Games and as assistant general manager and assistant coach for the 1984 U.S. Olympic Men's Team in Sarajevo.

Taylor took some time to speak with NHL.com following the three-day U.S. selection camp here at the New York Rangers' training facility. The team will now fly to Helsinki, Finland, to continue camp at the Tikkurila Valtti Arena, where exhibition matchups against Sweden and Finland are scheduled.

"The hardest challenge for us [evaluators] is the fact our players are scattered … some are in college, some play major junior and some are with the [National Team Development Program] in Ann Arbor," Taylor said. "So it's hard to sort through that. Secondly, we have a limited number of days in December where we can sort through it.

"We're actually jealous of Canada's system where they can get their kids together in early December and have a five-day camp with two full teams and narrow it down from there. We only have three days here, and have a limited number of players before making the final cuts [on Dec. 22 in Finland]."

Because several collegiate players invited to camp had college exams last week, the earliest USA Hockey could begin camp was Sunday. Despite the late start, Taylor certainly liked what he saw.

"I thought the enthusiasm was great this year and the coaching staff should be commended," Taylor said. "Some kids here who are power-play players on their teams, won't on this team. They'll have to adapt to other roles and they all know that. They all seem very unselfish and willing to check their egos at the door to get that done.

"We've been able to accomplish that at these three practices [in Greenburgh]," he continued. "It's just unfortunate with the tournament being in Russia that we have to go all the way to Helsinki to play our first exhibition game, and then send a couple kids home. That's difficult."

As it stands now, there are 14 forwards competing for 13 spots and nine defensemen battling for seven. The three goalies headed to Ufa will be starter John Gibson of the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League, Garret Sparks of the OHL's Guelph Storm and Jon Gillies of Providence College. Sparks and Gillies will battle for the backup role; the third goalie on the roster will serve as emergency backup in case of injury.

"I'm very happy with the play of all three goalies," U.S. coach Phil Housley said. "We haven't determined a rotation yet … that remains to be seen."

Jim Johannson, who serves as general manager for the U.S. National Team, said there wasn't one player at camp who elevated their status.

"In the short window here, I wouldn't say so, but it's almost a reaffirmation on why these guys were here in the first place," Johannson said. "I think we viewed it more that way, and there's more talk among the coaching staff heading over to Finland and getting the team prepared to play. We'll use the games in Finland to make the hard evaluations."

The managerial team will have to cut three players over the next week to trim the roster to the required 23-man unit before heading to Ufa for tournament play. It isn't too much of a stretch to admit defensemen Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Hockey League, Connor Murphy of the OHL's Sarnia Sting and Jacob Trouba of the University of Michigan are guaranteed roster spots.

Additionally, Housley seemed impressed with the Rocco Grimaldi (University of North Dakota), J.T. Miller (Connecticut Whale, AHL) and John Gaudreau (Boston College) line during camp. Sarnia's Alex Galchenyuk was also very impressive.

"It seems they've formed a little chemistry in the small games," Housley said. "They're looking for each other, and J.T. provides that strength down the middle. I love the enthusiasm."

Taylor, who's coaching resume includes a historic 28-year run as the head man at Yale University, has certainly seen his share of NHL caliber players come and go throughout his lifetime.

When asked for his assessment of Jones, who many project to be a top-two selection in the 2013 NHL Draft, the veteran mentor smiled and shook his head.

"I'm kind of speechless," he said. "He's got that wonderful combination of athletic ability, hockey sense, size, and character. When you get all of that in one package, it's pretty hard to find a better prospect. I know this kid very well, know his leadership abilities and calmness under pressure, his confidence level and upside. He's a very rare U.S. talent."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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