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U.S. junior coach: defense spurs memories of '10

Friday, 08.08.2014 / 7:36 PM / 2015 World Junior Championship

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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U.S. junior coach: defense spurs memories of '10
U.S. national junior team coach Mark Osiecki says the defensive talent he's seen in this week's development camp reminds him of the group in 2010, when the United States won the gold medal at the World Junior Championship.

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- When Mark Osiecki arrived here in August 2009 as an assistant coach for the United States national junior team that would be playing in the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship in Saskatoon, he looked at the defense that was assembled and wasn't sure how things would fit together.

Five months later, one of those defensemen, John Carlson, scored the overtime goal in the gold-medal game against Canada. The primary assist was credited to another defenseman, John Ramage.

Osiecki is back in Lake Placid, this time as the coach of the team that will go to Montreal and Toronto for the 2015 WJC, and as he looks at the eight defensemen remaining in camp, there's a familiar feeling: He's not sure how things will work themselves out.

However, much like 2010, he sees a talented group primed for big things in a few months.

"There's a lot of good hockey players here," Osiecki told NHL.com. "It just has to sort itself out a little bit. Solid group, similar to what was in Saskatoon, but not clearly defined."

In addition to Carlson and Ramage, that 2010 group featured an 18-year-old Cam Fowler, as well as offensive-minded Jake Gardiner, plus Matt Donovan, Brian Lashoff and David Warsofsky.

While it's tough to look at the current group and see a player the caliber of Fowler and Carlson, each of whom played for the U.S. at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, there are a few high-end offensive players. Among them are Michael Downing, a Florida Panthers prospect who played on the top pairing with Steven Santini (New Jersey Devils) in the United States' 7-1 win against Sweden on Wednesday and 9-1 win against Finland on Thursday. Also together for the first two games were Will Butcher and Ryan Collins.

"You're trying to go left and right when you can," Osiecki said. "Santini needs to be a rock. He needs to be a John Ramage, he needs to be a Patrick Wey in 2011, just a steady defenseman. That's how he has to play. The first three games he was trying to do everything. The last couple games he's starting to settle in and understand what we're asking of him."

Santini said he's feeling things come easier for him and that playing consistently with Downing has helped.

"I really enjoy playing with him," Santini said. "We played together as [defense] partners at the under-15 national camp. That's going back a while but we've known each other for a long time. Our two styles of play, we complement each other very well. It's been a lot of fun playing with him the last couple days."

Downing feels the same way. Both bring great size (Downing is 6-foot-3, 192 pounds; Santini is 6-2, 207) and physical play.

"We've played good off each other," Downing said. "We communicate well. We're both mean kids, we like to hit everything. So I think it's been really good with Steve."

Jack Dougherty, a 2014 second-round pick (No. 51) of the Nashville Predators, could come the closest to the Fowler/Carlson level of offensive skill. He had seven goals and 21 points in 57 games with the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 team last season, and had one goal and two assists in the win against Finland.

"Everybody's got good puck skills, but different kinds of defensemen use them differently," Dougherty said. "We all have the ability to make the first pass out of the zone. I don't think any of us are guys that can go coast to coast and dangle and spin and flip the puck up. But we can all get the job done offensively and defensively."

That's just what Osiecki wants to hear. Even though it was two defenseman leading the rush to the gold medal-winning goal in 2010, the team the U.S. will have for the tournament won't need to have defensemen leading the attack.

"These guys need to be good first-pass guys and then to be support players," he said. "And they've done that. I think really what we've tried to get out after the first three days is you don't have to lead the rush, you're not going to end to end, you're not a Paul Coffey. We don't have that. And that's what we're trying to make them aware of."

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