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Blais using camp to find right mix for U.S. team

Sunday, 08.09.2009 / 9:46 AM / 2010 World Junior Championship

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

"They've got questionnaires on them, you have all the stats on these guys, but we want to see how they get along with teammates. Can they jell? Can they be team players? Can they do the little things to win that we ask them to do?"
-- Dean Blais

Dean Blais is a hockey coach, not a scientist. But this week in Lake Placid, N.Y., he'll be conducting an experiment in team chemistry.

Blais, the U.S. coach for the 2010 World Junior Championship, has been spending the week watching the country's 43 best junior-age players show their skills on and off the ice at the national junior evaluation camp.

"We're going to have interviews before we get going here and feel the guys out a little bit," Blais told NHL.com before the camp, which runs Aug. 7-15, started. "They've got questionnaires on them, you have all the stats on these guys, but we want to see how they get along with teammates. Can they jell? Can they be team players? Can they do the little things to win that we ask them to do?

"Team chemistry is a tough thing to do because they're looking out for themselves right away."

They'll have to be looking out for themselves, as the first cut will come Sunday, after three days of practices and intrasquad scrimmages. After a day of practice Monday, there will be four days of morning practices followed by games against Russia.

Three players eligible for the 2010 Entry Draft could be part of those games, including defenseman Cam Fowler. The 6-foot-1 1/2, 189-pound blueliner excelled last season with the U.S. Under-18 team, scoring 40 points in 47 games. He'll play this season for the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires.

"He's a special player," Blais said. "He's big, strong and mobile, a fierce competitor. I'm sure he's going to be in the top five of the draft this year.

"It's hard to compare to him to a player like (Dion) Phaneuf, but he reminds me a little of him. Phaneuf gets his shot though, and Fowler has to work on that, but Fowler has a good shot, quarterbacks the power play. I think Fowler is in that category. That's saying a lot about the kid, but that's the type of player that he is."

Blais, who coached the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League last year, had a front-row seat to watch Fowler and other top U.S. players at the World Under-18 Championship in April, which was played in Fargo. Eleven players from that squad are in this camp.

One of those players is Jack Campbell, the youngest of the four goaltenders invited to the camp and another player eligible for the 2010 draft. Campbell played for the U.S. Under-17 team last season, and was in goal when the U.S. won the gold medal at the World Under-18s.

"I just saw a real fundamental goaltender," Blais said. "I don't know if he got hot at the right time. To be in our national program says a lot about his ability. He was rock solid, didn't give a lot of rebounds up and made the game look really simple. I saw all the U.S. games, but it didn't look like he had a weakness in his game and he was tested quite a bit."

Blais hopes all the players he's putting through the test this week respond as well as Campbell did.

"I'm familiar with some of the kids but not all of them," said Blais, who will coach the University of Nebraska-Omaha this season after winning USHL Coach of the Year with Fargo. "I think we're looking to see the talent level that's there. I think the talent level is good year in and year out. We're looking for the type of kid that can go up and compete in Regina and Saskatoon and play hockey that gives us a chance to maybe win a medal."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.


Quote of the Day

Obviously a lot happened in a short period of time. At the end of the day, considering everything I went through, I really felt close to my teammates and I really feel like what we accomplished, I know we didn't win it all. ... I'm really proud of how we got there and what we did once we got there.

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