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U.S. going with veterans for 2009 WJC

Wednesday, 12.03.2008 / 12:59 PM / 2009 World Junior Championship

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

"We really felt we had a lot of depth at defense. As every year, there were some very good players left off the roster and that's magnified at the defense position. From a scouting and evaluation standpoint, there were close to a dozen defensemen that we were tracking and there was a lot of discussion on the makeup of our team."
-- Jim Johansson

It's hard to call a team built for an under-20 international tournament an old team, but a look at the roster the United States will take to the 2009 World Junior Championship is long on experience and maturity.

"I think if you look at the makeup of the team, it's obviously hard to call an under-20 group an older team, but for this tournament, it’s an experienced group," USA Hockey Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations Jim Johannson told NHL.com. "It's an experienced group for this tournament. We're happy with the makeup we have with the players in all the roles and capacities we see them playing."

Of the 22 players the U.S. will take to Ottawa when the tournament kicks off Dec. 26, 17 will have celebrated their 19th birthday, and seven of them played on the U.S. team that finished fourth at last year's tournament in the Czech Republic. The roster was announced exclusively during NHL Live, broadcast on XM from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays and streamed on the NHL Network.

"There're a lot of guys with international experience," Johannson said. "And even the guys who haven't played in international events, there's just a big difference between being a 19-year-old and being 17 in this tournament.

"There's much more maturity. You have to have talent to win this tournament, but you need experience, guys that are at that stage in their life from what they're pursing and where they're at physically."

The U.S. team returns its top line from last year's tournament, which personifies what Johannson was looking for in maturity and experience.

James van Riemsdyk, who will be playing in his third WJC, led last year's tournament with 11 points and was named to the tournament all-star team. Colin Wilson tied for the WJC lead with 6 goals, and Jordan Schroeder tied for the tournament lead with 7 assists.

"We have played together before in the past," said van Riemsdyk. "They're both great players. Colin is a big strong kid, a ton of skill. So is Jordan, he has a ton of skill out there. Our styles match very well. We were able to find a great amount of success out there."

"Going into the tournament you want to have some chemistry, and one of the great things with this team is we have a lot of players who play on the same team," said U.S. coach Ron Rolston. "… You don't have a lot of time to create that chemistry in your lines (so) James and Colin and Jordan will be a line we have together."

They were keys to a team that swept through group play undefeated, but left without a medal after losing to Canada in the semifinals and by one goal to Sweden in the bronze-medal game.

"They saw the success we had at the start of the tournament," said Johannson, "and they were there for the disappointment at the end."

To upgrade their championship quotient, Johannson tabbed three members of the 2008 Memorial Cup champion Spokane Chiefs for the team -- forwards Mitch Wahl, Tyler Johnson and Drayson Bowman.

None have played at the under-20 international level, but winning Western Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League championships last season gives them high-pressure experience.

"What that group went through last year, they saw the success and tasted the failure," said Johannson. "Bringing in guys who have had a lot of success at different levels, Mitch Wahl, Drayson Bowman, they won a Memorial Cup championship, that went into our evaluation. You want them to bring that knowledge in how to win a championship into our locker room."

Van Riemsdyk, the second pick of the 2007 Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, currently is a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, where he leads the team with 8 goals and 19 points in 14 in games.

Wilson, the eighth pick of the 2008 draft by the Nashville Predators, is a sophomore at Boston University, where he leads the Terriers with 7 goals and 20 points in 13 games, and he's second in all NCAA Division I with 1.54 points per game.

"I think Colin Wilson has been a real good warrior for us," said Johannson. "He's a prototypical guy that you build around teams that win championships."

Schroeder, a freshman at the University of Minnesota, is considered a possible first-round pick for the 2009 draft. He leads the Golden Gophers with 12 assists and is second with 19 points in 14 games.

"In Jordan you have one of the best all-round players in his birth year in the game today," Johannson said. "He's got great offensive skills and he's an incredibly talented player."

University of Michigan sophomore Matt Rust also returns from last year's team, and other first-timers joining him are Boston College freshman right wing Jimmy Hayes; University of Minnesota sophomore Mike Hoeffel; Danny Kristo, a right wing playing with Omaha of the United States Hockey League; Jim O'Brien, a center taken in the first round of the 2007 Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators currently playing with Seattle of the WHL; Michigan right wing Aaron Palushaj; and Eric Tangradi, a left wing for the Belleville Bulls, who's the fourth-leading scorer in the Ontario Hockey League.

 
 
While they won't have Zach Bogosian, the third pick of the 2008 Entry Draft currently on the injured list with the Atlanta Thrashers, Johannson said he's confident in the group that will head the U.S. blue line.

Jonathan Blum, selected No. 23 in the 2007 Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators, currently leads all WHL defensemen with 13 goals and 34 points while playing for the Vancouver Giants.

Also back from 2008 are Ian Cole, a sophomore at Notre Dame, and Cade Fairchild, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota who tied for second on last year's team with a plus-3 rating. Both players were selected by the St. Louis Blues in the 2007 Entry Draft.

They'll be joined by four blueliners making their WJC debuts: New Hampshire freshman Blake Kessel; University of Wisconsin sophomore Ryan McDonagh, the No. 12 pick of the 2007 Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens; Notre Dame sophomore Teddy Ruth; and Boston University sophomore Kevin Shattenkirk, taken No. 14 in the 2007 draft by the Colorado Avalanche.

"We really felt we had a lot of depth at defense," Johannson said. "As every year, there were some very good players left off the roster and that's magnified at the defense position. From a scouting and evaluation standpoint, there were close to a dozen defensemen that we were tracking and there was a lot of discussion on the makeup of our team."

Defensive intensity won't just be required from the blueliners. Rolston said he wants to play a fierce, in-your-face style that turns defense into offense and is strong in transition.

"We want to be an attacking team," he said, "but that comes from being difficult to play against on the defensive side of the puck. We'll force the issue to make teams make mistakes and attack them. We've also built this team with some good size. Going into the tournament we wanted to construct a hockey team that had physical toughness to it, mental toughness to it, have a lot of character. Most important, you have to have to a competitive team with a high battle level, a team that competes on a nightly basis in this tournament, because you can't have a game off or it could cost you the tournament. We want to use our strength. We have a lot of depth up front, a lot of talented offensive players.

"Defensively, we have some good grit back there, some players who are tough to play against and can all move the puck. We want to put goals in and produce offense while being a strong defensive team in the tournament, with strong goaltending."

While both goaltenders will be making their WJC debuts, Johansson downplayed the experience factor for his two netminders -- Thomas McCollum, taken by the Detroit Red Wings with the final pick of the first round of the 2008 Draft and currently playing for the OHL's Guelph Storm, and the Kitchener Rangers' Josh Unice, a 2007 third-round pick by the Chicago Blackhawks.

"The experience factor, I think it matters more for the defensemen and forwards," Johannson said. "I think goaltending is to such a degree a game-by-game scenario. These guys have had very good success at various levels of their careers. ... In Thomas and Josh we have capable guys that are key components to the team having success and they're ready to handle pressure situations."

McCollum is second in the OHL with a 2.29 goals-against average and likely will have the inside track on winning the starting job.

"He's a big goaltender, he's positionally sound, he's had a great year for Guelph," Rolston said. "The thing that we like about him was the same thing that Detroit saw in him when they drafted him. He's very calm, and no matter what happens, he really seems to be even-keeled about the situation on the ice surface. He seems to really handle those adversities well. We think that certainly will be important up in Ottawa in that environment."

The U.S. will assemble in Lake Placid, N.Y., for a short training camp starting Dec. 15, then move to Kingston, Ont., for exhibition games against Latvia and Russia.

The 10-nation tournament will feature two five-team groups. Joining the U.S. in their group will be Germany, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan and Canada. The other group will feature Russia, Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Slovakia.

The U.S. will be looking for its first medal since winning the bronze in 2007; its only gold medal came in 2004.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.
Quote of the Day

The groove of being behind a bench is going to be interesting at first, but thank God we have a few exhibition games to get rid of those cobwebs. Overall the excitement of it all and the freshness and coming back refreshed, all those things are going to be assets. If [the players] come ready to give their best effort in practice and games, good things are going to happen. I'm always looking for results. It's not always on the scoreboard. It's winning and building something.

— Bryan Trottier on making his return to coaching as an assistant with the Sabres