Phil Housley knew the final decisions would be the hardest, and now, the time has arrived to make them.
USA Hockey brought 27 players to its pre-World Junior training camp in Tarrytown, N.Y. last week and that number was soon cut to 26. Stefan Noesen, under suspension by the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), had his discipline upheld by the IIHF and was deemed ineligible to play in the tournament. It was a big blow to Team USA as Noesen is a talented player that should have been an impact player for the Americans, but they had to move on.
It's Saturday afternoon in the United States and it's even later in Finland, and I can imagine Housley and the USA Hockey management staff fretting over cuts that could come down to splitting hairs.
The final roster cuts will be announced at 3 a.m. ET Sunday, USA Hockey announced this afternoon, which is later than originally thought but with the magnitude of the decisions, easy to see why they need some additional time.
The coaches and staff got a good look at all of their bubble players in a 3-2 overtime win against Sweden on Thursday, and a longer look in a disappointing and sloppy 5-1 loss to Finland today. The roster iced today against the Finns was supposed to be pretty close to what USA Hockey has in mind for its final group, but no decision is final until its officially final.
Here is how the U.S. team lined up today against Finland:
John Gaudreau - JT Miller - Rocco Grimaldi
Alex Galchenyuk - Vince Trocheck - Riley Barber
Blake Pietila - Cole Bardreau - Ryan Hartman
Stefan Matteau - Sean Kuraly - Tyler Biggs
Mike Reilly - Seth Jones
Shayne Gostisbehere - Jacob Trouba
Jake McCabe - Connor Murphy
Reilly started the game playing with Jones and I thought he looked confident. Both he and Jones like to have the puck on their stick and be part of the attack, and I thought it was interesting that Housley paired them together.
Grzelcyk also took shifts with Jones while Reilly filled in during the latter stages of the game. With seven defensemen, it's hard to get a complete look at several possible pairings and I wouldn't read too much into Reilly sitting for a few stretches in the game. I still think he has a good chance at making the team, and that began with an impressive showing at evaluation camp over the summer.
One thing that Housley wants his team to focus on is discipline: Team USA took nine minor penalties against Finland, which played directly into the style of game the Finns prefer. They were able to shut down the top American forwards and take advantage of their mistakes.
"Finland took the lead in the first period and I thought we disrupted the flow of our play by taking penalties," Housley said. "We cannot afford to take as many penalties as we did and expect to win.
"We will focus on becoming more disciplined before the tournament begins."
Other notes from today:
-- Blue Jackets prospect Joonas Korpisalo started the game for Finland, and though he didn't have much work early on, he made some sharp saves and looked confident between the pipes. He finished 16-for-16 on the day and exited after 31:53 of action.
-- Sean Kuraly had an excellent game today, and looks to be cementing his place on Team USA's roster after two strong showings in pre-tournament play. As others have pointed out, his offensive production isn't as high as it was during the summer camp, but Kuraly will fill a pivotal role at center ice and be capable of playing in all situations.
-- Connor Murphy played well again today and should make the final cut. He's a true defensive defenseman and the Americans need another shutdown guy behind Jacob Trouba, who made his pre-tourney debut against Finland.
-- Team USA will fly to Ufa, Russia on Sunday following final roster cuts and begins its 2013 World Junior tournament on Dec. 27 (Thursday) against Germany. That game begins at 9 a.m. ET and will be aired live on the NHL Network.