U.S. National Junior Team coach Dean Blais believes he has found the players who will help lead the team to its second gold medal in three years at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Not long after his club had scored a 7-3 victory against Switzerland on Wednesday in an exhibition match in Camrose, Alta., Blais and his managerial team had the arduous task of trimming their roster by five players to reach the 22-player roster limit.
Mission accomplished. Now the coach can get down to business in preparing for the 11-day tournament that begins Monday and concludes on Jan. 5.
As Blais predicted last month, the roster includes two goalies, seven defensemen and 13 forwards.
There are seven returning players from last year's team, eight first-round NHL draft choices and seven second-round picks. There are two players eligible for the 2012 Draft, including defenseman Jacob Trouba of the U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program, and forward Austin Czarnik of Miami University. The eighth returnee on the roster is goalie Andy Iles, who will serve as the team's emergency goalie.
TEAM USA 2012 WJC ROSTER
Jack Campbell, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (Dallas); John Gibson, Kitchener Rangers, OHL (Anaheim), * Andy Iles, Cornell University, ECACH (2012 draft eligible). Defense -- Adam Clendening
, Boston University, HEA (Chicago); Derek Forbort, North Dakota, WCHA (Los Angeles); Kevin Gravel, St. Cloud State, WCHA (Los Angeles); Stephen Johns
, Notre Dame, CCHA (Chicago); Jon Merrill, Michigan, CCHA (New Jersey); Jarred Tinordi, London Knights, OHL (Montreal); Jacob Trouba, U.S. National Under-18 Team, USHL (2012 eligible). Forwards --
Josh Archibald, Nebraska-Omaha, WCHA (Pittsburgh); Bill Arnold, Boston College, HEA (Calgary); Nick Bjugstad, Minnesota, WCHA (Florida); Connor Brickley, Vermont, HEA (Florida); Austin Czarnik, Miami, CCHA (2012 eligible); Charlie Coyle, Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL (Minnesota); Emerson Etem, Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL (Anaheim); J.T. Miller, Plymouth Whalers, OHL (NY Rangers); Kyle Rau, Minnesota, WCHA (Florida); Brandon Saad
, Saginaw Spirit, OHL (Chicago); T.J. Tynan, Notre Dame, CCHA (Columbus); Austin Watson, Peterborough Petes, OHL (Nashville); Jason Zucker, Denver, WCHA (Minnesota). * Emergency backup
Among the returning players is goalie Jack Campbell of the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Campbell becomes only the second goalie in U.S. history, along with Alan Perry (1984-86), to play in three WJC tournaments. His signature moment came in 2010 when Blais went to him in relief of Mike Lee 3:56 into the second period of the gold-medal game against Canada. He allowed only two goals on 34 shots to help lead the U.S. to an overtime victory.
Campbell followed up that performance by earning the Directorate Award as the tournament's top goalie last year when the U.S. captured the bronze medal with a victory against Sweden.
Also returning are defensemen Derek Forbort of the University of North Dakota and Jon Merrill of the University of Michigan. The defense averages 6-foot-2 -- the smallest player being Boston University's Adam Clendening (5-11) and the tallest Jarred Tinordi (6-7) of the OHL's London Knights.
Back in the mix on offense are Nick Bjugstad of the University of Minnesota, Charlie Coyle of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Saint John Sea Dogs, Emerson Etem of the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers and Jason Zucker of the University of Denver.
Of the players selected in the first round, seven were chosen in 2010 and one in 2011 -- forward J.T. Miller (New York Rangers, No. 15) of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. From the 2010 class are Campbell (Dallas Stars, No. 11), Forbort (Los Angeles Kings, No. 15), Austin Watson (Nashville Predators, No. 18)Tinordi (Montreal Canadiens, No. 22), Bjugstad (Florida Panthers, No. 19), Coyle (San Jose Sharks/Minnesota Wild, No. 28) and Etem (Anaheim Ducks, No. 29).
The five players cut Thursday morning were defenseman Austin Levi (Plymouth Whalers, OHL) and forwards Kenny Agostino (Yale University), Brian Ferlin (Cornell University), John Gaudreau (Boston College) and Shane Prince (Ottawa 67's, OHL).
Agostino, who is currently a sophomore at Yale, where he ranks second on his team with 10 points (4 goals) in 10 games, is a bit of a surprise cut. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound New Jersey native starred at USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp in August, finishing as Team USA's leading scorer with 7 assists and 10 points in six exhibition games. He also scored a goal in Tuesday's exhibition loss to Russia on a line with Bill Arnold and Miller.
Ferlin and Gaudreau were two of five scratches from Wednesday's lineup.
It should also be noted that defenseman Justin Faulk was invited to camp but not loaned to the team by Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford. The youngest player invited, 17-year-old Seth Jones, suffered an upper-body injury in the second period of Tuesday's exhibition against the Russian National Junior Team and was ruled out for the tournament.
This marks the third time Blais, the head coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, will be behind the bench for Team USA at the WJC. He helped lead the Americans to their second gold medal at the tournament just two years ago at the 2010 WJC in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Is it gold or bust for the Americans this time?
"Do we come in with high expectations? Yes, we do," U.S. general manager Jim Johannson said. "But our players come in with expectations of themselves as well. I say that out of respect to all our opponents, and how hard and difficult it is to have success in this tournament. But the players expect and know full well that they have to perform to have success and must believe in their abilities and skills to have that success. That's a big hurdle we've climbed over in some parts, but also something we have a huge appreciation for."
Team USA, which won back-to-back medals at the World Juniors for the first time this past year, will begin preliminary-round action at 8 p.m. on Dec. 26 against Denmark at Rexall Place in Edmonton. They'll also play Finland, Czech Republic and rival Canada.
The quarterfinals will be played Jan. 2 at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET; the semifinals on Jan. 3 at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. The bronze-medal game will be Jan. 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET; and the gold-medal game will be played Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. ET. All knockout-round games will be played at Scotiabank Saddledome and broadcast on NHL Network-U.S. and TSN.