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Galchenyuk could be U.S. star at WJC

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Alex Galchenyuk is of Russian decent and spent his childhood living all over North America and Europe while his father, Alexander, played professional hockey.

But when it came time to choose a side for his international career, Galchenyuk didn't need much time to make up his mind.

"I was born in the United States," he said. "I play hockey here. I want to play for the United States."

Galchenyuk is tied for the OHL lead with 27 goals, and he's second with 61 points.

Galchenyuk, born in Milwaukee during his father's two-season stint with the Milwaukee Admirals of the International Hockey League, has made the staff of USA Hockey very happy with that decision.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound forward -- taken by the Montreal Canadiens with the third pick of the 2012 NHL Draft -- has had a tremendous start to the season. Now in his third season with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, Galchenyuk is tied for the OHL lead with 27 goals, and he's second with 61 points.

"I've really enjoyed watching Alex," U.S. coach Phil Housley said. "Throughout the whole week in Lake Placid [at summer evaluation camp], I thought he got better and better and put an exclamation point on the Sweden [exhibition] game as far as his skill and development was going. He's tearing it up with his own team and hopefully he can do that for Team USA."

As thrilling as the chance to play for Team USA in the world junior championship is for Galchenyuk, the fact that the tournament is being played in Ufa, Russia, allows for him to have a bit of a homecoming.

While he will have a few extra friends and family members on hand, don't think he's getting overly emotional about the chance to play in front of fans from his homeland. To him, his homeland is the United States.

"It doesn't really matter where [the tournament] is played," he said. "Ice is the same, puck is the same everywhere. Doesn't matter. I just want to go there and hopefully win."

Galchenyuk's presence certainly gives the United States a better chance.

"He's been pretty awesome, to say the least," defenseman Connor Murphy, a teammate in Sarnia and with the U.S. team, told "He's helped my plus category a lot being on the ice with him. It's awesome having a guy like that. … He's a great leader on our team and a great guy that guys look up to."

If Galchenyuk makes the team, it's another step in his impressive recovery from a major knee injury that limited him to just two regular-season games in 2011-12. He admits he wasn't in peak condition when he took part in USA Hockey's summer evaluation camp, but still impressed the staff with his play at center on the second line.

Now not only is Galchenyuk back to full health, he believes he's even better now than before the injury.

"I think I'm better," he said. "I never scored 27 goals in 33 games before. I feel better."

Murphy, who got a quick glimpse at Galchenyuk last season, agrees with his teammate.

"I would say way better," Murphy said. "Not only just for his strength and comfort level, but it's the confidence. … It's awesome to see how far he's come along and really how hungry he is game to game and that's helped our team a lot in Sarnia."

In addition to his brilliant on-ice performance, Galchenyuk has taken on a leadership role in Sarnia as team captain, and seamlessly has shifted from center to the wing. It's a move that obviously has sat well with him -- in two games prior to arriving here he had five goals and eight points.

"I like playing the wing, but it doesn't really matter to me," Galchenyuk said. "I'm a forward. I just try to be dangerous out there. It's worked out for me lately."

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