|Goalie Jeremy Smith is a returning veteran and favorite to make this year's WJC team, which will be named in December by Ron Rolston.|
Fifty-three American hopefuls will convene Friday at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., for the beginning of a nine-day camp that will go a long way in determining who will represent the United States at the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship, Dec. 26, 2008-Jan. 5, 2009, in Ottawa.
Eight players return from the last year's team that finished fourth at the 2008 World Junior Championship return for this year's camp.
Goalie Jeremy Smith, defensemen Jon Blum, Ian Cole and Cade Fairchild and forwards Matt Rust, James van Riemsdyk, Colin Wilson, and Jordan Schroeder are the returning veterans and are favorites to make this year's team, which will be named in December by coach Ron Rolston.
"It's a good group of veterans that are back for camp and we are looking to those players in Lake Placid to push the pace, lead and be at the front of things in terms of what we want in pace and tempo," said Rolston, the coach of the U-18 component of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.
Rolston expects that veteran core to come into camp and set an early tone for what he hopes will be a high-tempo, high-energy camp. van Riemsdyk, selected No. 2 by Philadelphia in the 2007 Entry Draft, is attending his third evaluation camp. The other returnees are at their second Lake Placid summer camp.
"I think all of those players were on last year's team for a reason," says Rolston. "They have a lot of character, work hard and (have) persistence in terms of the challenges we are going to have at camp. I'm sure they will have that mindset that they want to have a great team, so I'm sure they will be pushing the pace."
The Americans will hit the ice running, so to speak. The 53 players, a much higher number than in past camps, arrive throughout the day Friday and will split into two groups for quick practices that night.
"We have a slightly different format this year where we are going to bring three American teams up to Lake Placid and have some kind of intra-squad stuff going on earlier than we normally have in the past," Rolston said. "We'll get to games right away and get to evaluating the kids."
The Americans begin three days of intra-squad scrimmages Saturday as the group is broken up into three teams. Each team will feature 10 forwards and six defensemen. The five goalies in camp will rotate through the teams.
The Americans will send some players home Tuesday, reform into two teams and take on strong U-20 select teams from Sweden and Finland in a round-robin tournament that will run through Saturday's closing day of camp.
Rolston says the format of the camp was changed to allow more players to be evaluated and also to allow some younger players to get a chance to have the Lake Placid experience at an earlier age so they will be less intimidated when they hopefully return to this camp the following summer.
Goalies Mike Lee and Brandon Maxwell and forwards Ryan Bourque and Schroeder are eligible for this June's Entry Draft in Montreal. Defenseman Cam Fowler, a late-birthday '91, isn't eligible to be drafted until 2010.
"I think we're getting more players involved in the camp and getting more guys experience," Rolston said. "This year we're bringing in some younger players into the camp. We have some '91s attending -- five of them -- some younger kids we think are going to be future players for us, and we want to get them involved and see how they do in the camp.
"It allows more players to have the experience and really gives us the opportunity to look at a wider variety of players. There's a lot of players that we may not have a lot of information on that we would like to see at that level."
And it will be a high level at this camp for sure. Forty-one of the 53 invitees have been selected by NHL teams in the past two years. There will be 12 first-round picks on hand and 11 second-round picks.