Two players, from two different backgrounds, two different states, and two different leagues, are now teammates on the U.S. National Junior Team. Such is the benefit of teams like this: it is no longer the “all stars” from one league or one state or district, the United States team is comprised of the best players in the country. Hopefully someday soon Mike Carman and Kevin Montgomery, two Colorado Avalanche draft picks, will be teammates again.
Carman, 19 years old, is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota. A product of the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., Carman has made great strides since first joining USA Hockey in 2004.
“In high school, I was straight offense – I wasn’t really relied on to play defensively. Coach [John] Hynes, in the way he teaches out there, he has really helped me develop my game and I think he has progressed me to where I am today,” Carman said.
|Kevin Montgomery is making his first appearance at the World Juniors |
Montgomery, also 19 (the two are only ten days apart), has taken a different path than Carman. Montgomery and Carman both played for two years with the NTDP and then the two parted ways – Carman to Minnesota, Montgomery to Ohio State University. Halfway through his freshman season, Montgomery decided to make the switch to the OHL.
“I just felt like the OHL lifestyle is more like a pro lifestyle – you play more games. I’ve loved it ever since I switched, I’ve enjoyed every single second of it, you get more chances to play,” Montgomery commented.
While each player has a different background in terms of the competition they are used to, both have noticed a significant change in international play – and it is something that they are both getting accustomed to while in the Czech Republic.
“The size of the rink is a little bigger, so you have to use your legs and speed a little bit more,” Montgomery said. “You also have to watch your stick – they can burn you with penalties here,” he continued.
For Carman, he believes that the game here is much more skilled than in North America. “Overall, I think the style Europeans play is a more skilled game. They aren’t into the whole dump and chase ‘North American’ style, so you’ve got to be real smart defensively or they’re going to beat you pretty much any time,” he said.
|Mike Carman scored one goal to help lead Team USA to the bronze medal at the 2007 World Junior Championship. |
Carman has evolved much as a player. He now sees himself as a “two-way forward” with defensive responsibilities. “Having played last year, I’m going to be relied upon offensively too – to help my teammates get the puck in the net,” Carman continued.
Just as Carman sees the need as a forward to help out and play sound defense, so too does Montgomery feel the need to contribute in the offensive zone. “I like to jump in whenever I can – but I do think I need to work on the defensive zone a little more,” Montgomery said.
When asked about representing the United States, both players had very similar responses.
“It’s very special to me. I take a lot of pride in wearing my country’s jersey,” Montgomery said. “When I put that jersey on, it’s a big deal for me,” he continued.
“It’s a great feeling – you can’t take for granted wearing the USA jersey – you never know when you’re not going to be able to wear it,” Carman said. “In Ann Arbor, I really developed a sense of pride representing my country – and that certainly translates over to this tournament. I’ve been looking forward to this tournament since I got to Ann Arbor [four years ago],” he continued.
So what can Montgomery and Carman do to someday share in the sacred tradition of pulling on an Avalanche jersey everyday? Both players said they need to get stronger, add muscle, increase their endurance and conditioning, and just physically develop. Both players spent time in the Avalanche development camp this past offseason.
“I was very excited to be involved with such a good organization,” Montgomery said. “I went to the development and rookie camp and it was a great experience for me. I met a lot of great guys,” he continued.
“Obviously when you get drafted by the same organization you recognize that you could be potentially playing with one another down the road, so yeah, there definitely is a bond – we have a nice friendship,” Carman said.
In Liberec, thus far, Carman has already matched his point total from last season’s tournament. He scored the third goal in the United States’ 5-1 win over Kazakhstan in his first game in the tournament. The United States plays its second game on Friday against Switzerland, who they are 15-0-2 against all-time in tournament play.
The two boys were brought together in Ann Arbor and developed a strong friendship as they lived only a few houses away from each other. Their paths divulged – one to Canada, the other to St. Paul – but they are both at the same point today. As they depart again at the end of the tournament, they both hope that one day their paths leads them both to Denver.