Crunch time is quickly approaching for the U.S. national junior team, and Phil Housley knows he has some difficult decisions to make.
Team USA wrapped up its New York practice schedule today before flying to Helsinki, Finland this afternoon. Upon arrival in Finland, the team will play two games before making final cuts to its roster: Thursday against Sweden (12:30 p.m. ET) and Saturday against Finland (6 a.m. ET), with both games being aired live on the NHL Network.
Housley has to like how his forward lines are shaping up; there's a distinct element of skill in the U.S. top six, as well as high-character, high-compete players in the bottom six.
Alex Galchenyuk, recently named the Ontario Hockey League's player of the week, is likely to be the club's No. 1 center and has reportedly played well alongside Miami forward Riley Barber during camp. Galchenyuk is an electric player and can score highlight reel goals in bunches, and some think he could make the Montreal Canadiens roster once the NHL season begins.
Dublin native (and Miami freshman) Sean Kuraly has seen time at center ice during practice and has been paired with Cincinnati's own Tyler Biggs on his right wing. New York Rangers prospect J.T. Miller - reported to be the odds-on favorite for U.S. captain - will be one of the team's offensive leaders and is a returning player from last year's team.
Leadership is going to be an important factor for Team USA, but Housley isn't worried about his team's camaraderie as they get set for the next step.
"I think these last two days have been great," Housley said about the practice sessions in New York. "The enthusiasm on the ice, the competitive battles...it's everything we're looking for, and it seems these guys are coming together in a short period of time.
"I thought (at USA Hockey's summer evaluation camp) in Lake Placid they made strides of creating that bond, but now it's been a joy to see these guys on the ice and come together."
Housley also talked about how he envisions the U.S. squad generating offense from its defense, which is quite the star-studded group with no shortage of talent -- and Blue Jackets prospect Mike Reilly is among those in contention for a roster spot.
Because of that depth, Housley said the roster decisions will be the most difficult on defense, where there are a handful of guys that can play the game much like he did.
"I look at our back end as a whole, and there's a lot of guys that could fit that role," Housley said. "I was very intrigued the last two days with all of our defensemen, whether it was their compete level or their puck movement."