Phil Housley looks at the roster he'll be overseeing at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation camp and sees a copious amount of talent.
As coach of the team USA Hockey will send to Russia for the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, it's Housley's job to mold that talent into a team capable of winning a medal for the third time in the past four years and making up for last year's seventh-place finish at the world's elite under-20 hockey tournament.
2012 USA HOCKEY NATIONAL JUNIOR EVALUATION CAMP
Goalies: John Gibson (Anaheim), Jon Gillies (Calgary), Garret Sparks (Toronto), Anthony Stolarz (Philadelphia).
Defense: Connor Carrick (Washington), Brian Cooper (Anaheim), Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia), Matt Grzelcyk (Boston), Garrett Haar (Washington), Seth Jones (2013 Draft eligible), Jake McCabe (Buffalo), Connor Murphy (Phoenix), Mike Paliotta (Chicago), Mike Reilly (Columbus), Robbie Russo (N.Y. Islanders), Joakim Ryan (San Jose), Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis), Patrick Sieloff (Calgary), Brady Skjei (N.Y. Rangers), Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg), Andrew Welinski (Anaheim).
Forwards: Cole Bardreau (free agent), Tyler Biggs (Toronto), Colin Blackwell (San Jose), Reid Boucher (New Jersey), Travis Boyd (Washington), Alex Broadhurst (Chicago), Thomas Di Pauli (Washington), Steve Fogarty (N.Y. Rangers), Alex Galchenyuk (Montreal), John Gaudreau (Calgary), Brian Hart (Tampa Bay ), Ryan Hartman (2013 Draft eligible), Nicolas Kerdiles (Anaheim), Sean Kuraly (San Jose), Mario Lucia (Minnesota), Stefan Matteau (New Jersey), J.T. Miller (N.Y. Rangers), Logan Nelson (Buffalo), Stefan Noesen (Ottawa), Blake Pietila (New Jersey), Adam Reid (free agent), Henrik Samuelsson (Phoenix), Vince Trocheck (Florida), Jimmy Vesey (Nashville).
Housley takes the top job after serving as an assistant to Ron Rolston at the 2007 WJC and Keith Allain at the 2011 tournament. Housley also was an assistant coach for Scott Gordon for the U.S. team at the 2011 World Championship. The U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer, who retired in 2003 as the all-time leading scorer among U.S.-born NHL players (since broken by Mike Modano), also coaches the boys ice hockey team at Stillwater (Minn.) High School.
Housley is no stranger to big events as a player -- he played in seven NHL All-Star Games during his 22-year playing career and represented the United States at six World Championships, two Canada Cups, a World Cup and the 2002 Olympics. However, this will be the biggest stage he's ever coached on.
"It is a big step," he told NHL.com. "Certainly I think with my background, playing as long as I did, and playing in international competition, I feel very comfortable. … I feel I can teach these kids a lot about the game, and more importantly about the international game."
The camp, which runs Aug. 4-11 in Lake Placid, N.Y., will be the first step toward Housley and USA Hockey picking the team that will travel to Ufa, Russia for the WJC, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5, 2013.
Three players from last year's team will be at this year's camp -- goaltender John Gibson, defenseman Jacob Trouba and center J.T. Miller. Though that's fewer returning players than in years past, Housley said he doesn't mind the lack of experience.
"I'm looking forward to seeing all the guys," he said. "Nothing's written in stone, only three guys are returning, which provides a great opportunity for everybody. Just almost like a clean slate. The better players are going to rise to the top, and that's what I'm looking for. It's going to be competitive right off the hop."
Providing the competition at this year's camp will be teams from Finland and Sweden, which won last year's tournament. There also will be intrasquad scrimmages as Housley gets to know the players on and off the ice and begins to implement the systems and style of play he wants to use.
"We're going to get a good read in this camp," he said. "Just from speaking from years past, we'll have a depth chart. Some of those pawns might move up and down according to how they play in game conditions."
One pawn who could slide into the starting spot in net is Gibson, who backed up Jack Campbell at last year's tournament. He played one game, allowing four goals on 27 shots in a 4-1 loss to Finland.
2012 USA HOCKEY NATIONAL JUNIOR EVALUATION CAMP SCHEDULE
|Aug. 4||USA Blue vs. USA White, 4 p.m.|
|Aug. 5||USA Blue vs. USA White, 4 p.m.|
|Aug. 6||USA Blue vs. Finland, 1 p.m.|
|USA White vs. Sweden, 4:30 p.m|
|Aug. 7||Finland vs. Sweden, 4 p.m.|
|Aug. 8||USA vs. Finland, 4 p.m.|
|Aug. 9||USA vs. Sweden, 4 p.m.|
|Aug. 10||Finland vs. Sweden, 4 p.m.|
|Aug. 11||USA vs. Finland, 1 p.m.|
A 2011 second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, Gibson went 21-10-0 in 32 games with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League last season. He led the OHL with a .928 save percentage and was seventh with a 2.75 goals-against average.
Housley wouldn't anoint Gibson the starter, but intimated he would have the first crack at taking the No. 1 job.
"You'd like to see Gibson really excel and really become a leader to those other goaltenders because he has been in World Junior Championships," Housley said. "Certainly I'm excited to see him play. I cannot make any decisions at this point. Certainly he's a front-runner for our team, I really like the way he played last year. Maybe he was a bit too aggressive, but I liked that positive nervous energy. I think he's gotten a little more polished, and I think that's going to help him."
The strength of the U.S. team could be its defense, which likely will be led by Trouba. Taken by the Winnipeg Jets with the ninth pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, he had two assists in six games at last year's WJC.
With speed and skill at a premium on the larger Olympic-size ice this year's tournament will be played on, Housley said he believes Trouba will have a chance to excel in Russia.
"Jacob Trouba is going to be invaluable," Housley said. "He's a guy that's going to play in all situations. He's gained another year of experience. That's going to be helpful for us as coaches to use guys to implement in our offensive scheme without being a defensive liability."
Joining Trouba along the blue line at the camp will be Connor Murphy and Seth Jones, each of whom likely would have made last year's team were it not for injuries. Murphy, a 2011 first-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, injured his knee during last year's camp. Jones, who could be the first player picked at the 2013 Draft, was hurt in a pre-tournament exhibition game. Also at the camp will be 2012 first-round picks Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis Blues) and Brady Skjei (New York Rangers).
"Personally, I think one of our strengths is our back side," Housley said. "We have a lot of puck-moving defensemen that can skate and have a good head on their shoulders. … I want our defense to jump up in the play, I want that second wave coming in and hopefully beating the [opposing] forward up the ice and creating an odd-number situation. What better way than to have guys that can skate and jump in and play both ends of the rink. That first pass out of your zone, that's like your forecheck and you're already out and transitioning out of your zone. It's hard to find guys who can do that and have that keen sense of escapability. I really like our defense. I'm looking forward to seeing them play."
Miller will be one of six first-round picks among the forwards invited. That list includes Toronto's Tyler Biggs and Ottawa's Stefan Noesen, each of whom attended last year's Lake Placid camp. Montreal's Alex Galchenyuk, New Jersey's Stefan Matteau and Phoenix's Henrik Samuelsson, each taken in the first round of the 2012 Draft, also earned invitations.
In fact, of the 45 players invited to the camp, 17 were chosen in the first or second round of the NHL Draft, with two others -- Jones and forward Ryan Hartman -- expected to be first-round picks in 2013. While that group of talent looks good on paper, Housley knows turning it into a cohesive unit is the real task.
"The biggest thing I've learned is you're going to have a group of individuals coming together and you're going to have to make them feel part of the team," he said. "Everyone has a role on the team. Certainly guys are going to get special teams work more than other guys. Doesn’t matter what role you're in, you're going to have to buy into that role and do what's best for the team. Those are things we're looking at as coaches going into this tournament."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK