Campbell, Zucker among vets who survive first cut

Tuesday, 08.09.2011 / 11:09 AM / 2012 World Junior Championship

By Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor

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Campbell, Zucker among vets who survive first cut
Nine players from last year's bronze-medal team and one very young defenseman highlight the 29 players who survived cutdown day at the U.S. World Junior evaluation camp.
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- The quest by Jack Campbell and Jason Zucker to become the winningest players in U.S. junior hockey history will continue, as both were among the 29 players to survive the first round of cuts at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp.

Campbell and Zucker, who gold medals at the 2010 World Junior Championship in Saskatoon and bronze medals last year in Buffalo, will likely have a chance to compete for a third straight medal at the 2012 WJC, which will be held Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton.

Prior to last year, no U.S. team ever had won medals in consecutive World Junior Championships.

"I take a lot of pride in that (USA) jersey and playing in this tournament," Zucker told following Tuesday's practice. "For me to be able to come away with three medals would be fantastic."

Seven other players from last year's third-place team survived the cut -- goaltender Andy Iles, defensemen Justin Faulk, Derek Forbort and Jonathan Merrill, and forwards Nick Bjugstad, Charlie Coyle and Emerson Etem.

"We are very pleased with the way the players have performed during the first three days of camp," said Tim Taylor, director of player personnel for the 2012 U.S. National Junior Team. "The players released today will continue to be a big part of our ongoing evaluation process, and we look forward to the upcoming international games to further evaluate the players who remain in Lake Placid."

Among those missing the cut was a pair of first-round draft picks, the Blackhawks' Kevin Hayes, 24th pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, and the Maple Leafs' Tyler Biggs, the 22nd pick in the 2011 draft. Also sent home were Predators property Chase Balisy, who had a pair of goals in Saturday's opening intrasquad scrimmage, and Islanders defense prospect Scott Mayfield, who had a pair of assists in Monday's win against Finland.

The remaining roster consists of three goaltenders, nine defensemen and 17 forwards.

The goaltending situation is one U.S. coach Dean Blais previewed Monday, when he said Campbell would be the starter, with Iles and John Gibson competing for the backup spot.

"Jack Campbell has proven himself to be the go-to guy," Blais said. "Whether the other goaltenders can improve to the point they can challenge him … certainly I think Jack is in a category of his own right now."

Another surprise has been the progress of 16-year-old defenseman Seth Jones, who survived the first round of cuts. Jones won't turn 17 until October, but at 6-foot-3 and 172 pounds, he's developed physically and has a skill level to match his stature.

"This kid is big and strong and smart way beyond his years," Blais said. "He's one of the players that really impressed the coaching staff. … He's obviously mature in the way he plays the game. I'm just really surprised by him."

"I was really excited," Jones, who will play for the U.S. National Team Development Program's under-18 squad this fall, told following Tuesday's practice. "I thought I did all I could to make the team. If I got cut I was going to walk out of there with my head held high. I did all I could."

Jones, who won't be NHL draft-eligible until 2013 due to his late birthday, is the only remaining draft-eligible player on the U.S. team. Defenseman Brian Cooper, who is eligible for the 2012 draft, missed the cut.

Kenny Agostino, a 2010 fifth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, leads the camp in scoring through three games, including a goal and two assists for his split squad in Monday's win against Finland.

"Jack Campbell has proven himself to be the go-to guy. Whether the other goaltenders can improve to the point they can challenge him … certainly I think Jack is in a category of his own right now." -- Coach Dean Blais

"He started a little bit slow the first day, but that day was a tough, grind-it-out practice and the intensity and everything they had to show," Blais said. "He got better throughout the three days and that's hard to do. But he did it."

Blais said now that the roster is smaller, he and the coaching staff will start refining some of the systems that were put in during the first three days. After Tuesday's practice, the U.S. will face Sweden on Wednesday and Friday, with a Thursday game against Finland in between.

"The guys that are here earned their way," Blais said. "They worked hard in practice, they showed they belong. … The big thing for us the last three days was seeing who competed the hardest. I think that was part of the success we had in Saskatoon."

Blais, who coached that team to a gold medal in 2010, said it's hard for him not to compare that championship squad to the one he's building now.

"We won the gold medal up there and you start thinking back, do we have a Cam Fowler on defense?" Blais said. "Do we have a Derek Stepan with the leadership he provided, the glue that brought everyone together? We had Jordan Schroeder, we had Jerry D'Amigo, who had a great world junior for us, and Chris Kreider, who came out of the woodwork for us. We have that potential here, and we'll learn in the next six days how good can we get. As good as we were by beating Sweden and Finland (Monday), I think we can get better. I think we can get to the point where we can be better on the power play, get more familiar with each other on the penalty kill. Do we have the character? We don't know. We're not game tested yet. We'll find out."

Contact Adam Kimelman at Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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