PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC -- Blackhawks draft picks Bill Sweatt and Joe Palmer have a lot more in common than it would seem on the surface. While the two players are from different regions of the country and have two different positions and backgrounds, they’re both in the Czech Republic right now fighting for the United States in the World Junior Championships. This is not the first time the two have donned the red, white, and blue to represent America. Sweatt and Palmer were teammates together in the National Development Program, based out of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Sweatt, 19 years old, from about an hour outside of Chicago in Elburn, Illinois, has made an impact since joining the perennial NCAA powerhouse Colorado College in 2006. A big Chicago Cubs fan, Sweatt put up a respectable 14 points in 41 games as a freshman. This season, Sweatt has made a bigger splash in Colorado Springs. In just a quarter of last season’s games, Sweatt has already matched his previous point total.
Palmer, on the other hand, is a Yorkville, New York native – which is about an hour away from Syracuse. Palmer is a goaltender at Ohio State University, where as a freshman he led all CCHA freshman netminders with 15 victories. This season, Palmer’s record isn’t up to par, but his save percentage and goals against statistics are similar to his performance last season.
While neither player has made a name for himself with his work so far in this World Juniors tournament, both have been on this stage before. Sweatt, who currently has one assist heading into today’s semi-final against Canada, was a member of last year’s bronze medal team. Palmer hasn’t seen much work this tournament in net – just a period against Finland in the USA’s last preliminary round game.
Two years ago, Palmer was perfect in four games in net in Sweden at the U18 World Junior Championships. The 19 year old had a 95% save percentage and 1.46 GAA on the way to the gold medal.
“The ice is obviously a lot bigger, with more room to skate and make plays, but I think the biggest difference is that it is the best players each country has to offer,” Palmer said about the tournament. “These are the best players in the world."
Even though he hasn’t seen much time between the pipes, Palmer still believes he is gaining a lot of valuable experience in the Czech Republic. His United States team may be on the way to its second gold medal in the U20 tournament. They beat Russia, Switzerland, Kazakhstan, and Finland in the preliminary round and had a bye to the semifinals, where they will meet Canada live today on the NHL Network.
“It’s been terrific so far, definitely pretty exciting,” Palmer said. “It’s great just being around the guys. Just coming to the rink for practices and games everyday, it’s been an unbelievable experience.”
Sweatt couldn’t be reached for comment, but Palmer was thrilled to be drafted by the Blackhawks. He was selected in the fourth round in 2006 after going 29-14-1-3 for the US NDPT.
“It was funny, you know, I had a pre-draft meeting with 13 different teams, and Chicago wasn’t one of them – so it was a little surprising to hear Chicago when my name was called,” Palmer continued. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to go to a city with so much hockey history. They’re a team with such young talent – they have a bright future."
For now, Palmer and Sweatt are just focusing on the task at hand. Palmer is savoring every moment he is spending in the USA jersey – it will be his last except for an Olympics or World Championship appearance.
“It’s a dream come true to wear this jersey,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to get to wear it again. You tend to take it for granted when you play in Ann Arbor [with the development program], but it’s such an honor.”
Palmer and Sweatt were teammates in Ann Arbor and now in Prague. The two are hoping that their paths will lead to the United Center where they can join in the tradition of pulling on a Blackhawks sweater everyday – to make another dream come true.