As if the heated competition for Team USA's final roster spots didn't need any more drama, it got another dose early this morning.
With a scheduled announcement for 3 a.m. ET (10 a.m. in Finland, where the team is currently stationed) from USA Hockey to announce the team's World Junior roster, one would think the players in contention would finally have some clarity one way or the other. They took 26 players to Helsinki for two pre-tournament games and have to get down to 23 players by the IIHF roster deadline on Christmas Day.
Team USA GM Jim Johannson did announce two cuts today: defenseman Brady Skjei, a first-round pick of the New York Rangers (2012) and New Jersey Devils first-rounder Stefan Matteau, with the latter cut meaning the forward group is set at 13 players.
As of this writing, the U.S. roster sits at 24 players and the last cut will be on defense, where Blue Jackets prospect Mike Reilly is still sweating it out. Has he done enough in both the U.S.' summer camp and in pre-tournament competition to solidify his spot on Team USA? It's tough to tell, especially with the number of high-skill, puck-moving defenseman that head coach Phil Housley has at his disposal.
USA Hockey announced a "pending medical situation" is undergoing further review, which will apparently have an impact on the final roster. It has been reported that Connor Murphy, a Columbus native and Phoenix prospect, is the injured player in question after playing very limited minutes against Finland on Saturday.
"We are very close to finalizing our group of defensemen, pending the resolution of a medical situation," Johannson said this morning. "We are set with our 13 forwards and three goaltenders.
"The decisions we made today were very difficult and are a testament to the talent available to us in the United States."
Returning to the U.S. roster for the 2013 tournament are forward JT Miller (native of East Palestine, Ohio), goaltender John Gibson and defenseman Jacob Trouba, who were part of a disappointing finish at the 2012 World Junior. Miller and Trouba were named alternate captains today, and Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe was appointed as captain of Team USA.
There are high hopes for this year's U.S. squad, which has a chance to win the Americans' third medal in the last four years of the tournament -- highlighted by a memorable and thrilling overtime win over Canada in the 2010 gold medal game.
So for the time being, Reilly awaits word if he will be traveling with the team to Ufa, Russia for the tournament which begins Thursday morning for Team USA against Germany (9 a.m. ET live on the NHL Network).