MINNEAPOLIS -- The last thing United States National Junior Team general manager Jim Johannson told Matthew Grzelcyk before informing the young defenseman he would be the final cut prior to the start of the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship was that he would get another shot this year.
At the time, it wasn't exactly what Grzelcyk wanted to hear. Particularly since he would now have to board a plane in Ufa, Russia, to make the long journey back to the United States.
"When you try out for a team, you want to make it, but seeing the guys they had last year didn't make it too disappointing," Grzelcyk told NHL.com. "But just to be invited to the camp was an honor in itself. It was tough to get that news kind of late, but what can you do. They won gold, so that was awesome to see those guys celebrating in the end.
"A lot of them are my best friends; I was so happy for them."
Despite the news, the Boston University sophomore said he watched every game of the tournament and was rooting hard in the end. Now, Grzelcyk is hoping to earn the spot he was previously denied when the U.S. Team for 2014 WJC in Malmo, Sweden, is announced on Dec. 23.
"I believe the reason I was let go last year were my deficiencies on the defensive side of the puck," Grzelcyk said. "I think that was the biggest reason they went with Pat [Sieloff] last year over me. He's a great defenseman. I needed to work on my one on one battles in the corners and things like that, gapping up on forwards. I needed more development in those areas.
"I think I am better prepared this time around."
Johannson knows Grzelyck is more determined than ever to earn a roster spot in Malmo. The managerial team and coach Don Lucia will likely cut two defensemen from the select camp roster and bring seven to the WJC.
"Grzelcyk wanted us to do well, he told us to 'go get 'em' when the first words out of our mouths were, 'You're eligible [to compete in the WJC] next year,'" Johannson said. "At the time, I know it doesn't mean much, but it certainly means a lot now. He's a guy who is very talented and can play all situations. That's why he's here."
Johannson credited defensemen Grzelcyk, Sieloff and Connor Murphy for sticking through a tense situation in Ufa.
"I spoke to all three and explained the situation," Johannson said. "I said, 'Murph, show us that you're healthy.' I told Pat that Murph was on the team unless he wasn't healthy enough [which he was]."
Sieloff and Murphy would ultimately earn the final two defensive spots for the 2013 U.S. National Junior Team, and Grzelcyk would have to wait his turn.
"It was the first time we brought a guy into the tournament not knowing if he would even be on the team," Johannson said.
Grzelcyk, selected by the Boston Bruins in the third round (No. 85) of the 2012 NHL Draft, has two goals and eight points in 17 games for the Terriers in 2013-14. As a freshman, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound left-handed shot was named to the 2013 Hockey East All-Rookie Team after leading the club in assists, points and plus-minus rating among defenders.
United State National Junior Team select camp forward and BU teammate Daniel O'Regan knew Grzelcyk was upset over not making the team, but he never complained about any of the decisions made.
"Everyone on our team was really excited for him when he got the opportunity to go out there and the whole process was long for him," O'Regan told NHL.com. "But to see him back at BU during the new year; he didn't show it, but you knew he was upset. Everyone is really happy that he's getting this second chance. He's one of the best defensemen in our league, so you would expect him to be out there and do a lot for this team."
Lucia has had Grzelcyk paired with several different players during the first two days of practice sessions here at Mariucci Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota.
It doesn't really concern Grzelcyk who he's paired with; he's willing to do whatever it takes to play for a gold medal.
"Going through the process last year definitely allowed me to have a lot more confidence this year," he said. "Even just knowing some of the guys and equipment managers and trainers here was huge because I'm comfortable. I feel as though I fit right in."
Grzelcyk acknowledged he would expect this year's team to have good success on the bigger ice surface, just as the 2013 gold medal-winning group had in Ufa, Russia.
"I watched all the games last year and was so proud," he said. "Those guys absolutely deserved it. They had great leadership from the top, a lot of those guys played with me on the National Team Development Program, so it was great to see them win.
"In past years, USA Hockey has been built on speed and hard work because I think that suits our game well. I see that in this group."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
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