The New Jersey Devils have five players participating at the 2018 IIHF World Championship in Denmark, which starts on Friday. Keith Kinkaid, Will Butcher, Blake Coleman and Brian Gibbons are representing USA while Mirco Mueller and goaltending prospect Gilles Senn will play for Switzerland. Assistant Coach Geoff Ward will also hold the same role with Germany.
While this will be the first time Coleman and Gibbons have represented their country at an IIHF event, Butcher and Mueller have participated in both the U18 and world junior championship earlier in there careers, but only Kinkaid has experience at the men's world championship as he was a member of Team USA in 2016.
"To get the chance to play for USA is definitely an honor. You always want to play for your country and I'll take any opportunity I can get," said the netminder. "International hockey is always a challenge and an adjustment to get used to the wide ice - The angles are a bit different - but having been here two years ago, I think I'm better prepared and know how to handle it and I'm excited to get started. I think we have a good group here."
The players skated together at RWJ Barnabas Health Hockey House a couple times before leaving for Europe to keep their legs fresh and stay in skating shape, but also tried to rest their bodies. It's something that Butcher has been mindful of throughout his rookie season.
"It's a grind of a season. In college you only play 40 games, so playing 82 plus playoffs...It was a grind, but also a lot of fun. I enjoyed the challenge and I'm trying to carry that over here," he said. "Any time you get the chance to play for the US, it's something I want to do. It was awesome to be asked and an honor to represent the United States, but this is a challenge too. I'm getting to play a little bit of a different role. I didn't play PK at all this year and I'm out there on the PK now and I really like the challenge and opportunity to improve my game. It's been a lot of fun for me."
When Gibbons got the call, he was packing up for the offseason and was completely shocked.
"I never expected to have this opportunity. It wasn't on my radar at all. I didn't even know where the tournament was, but then I saw that Cam was coming and I said I was in!" he said with a smile as his former linemate at Boston College and current Columbus Blue Jacket Cam Atkinson walked by.
He's hoping his speed will translate even more on the bigger ice surface.
"I try to play a fast game and hopefully I don't get hit too much on the big ice," he said. "They say you have a little more time out there, but I didn't really feel that way [in the exhibition game against Denmark], but hopefully as the tournament gets going, I'll be more comfortable and figure out ways to use my speed on the bigger ice. I think that could be a big advantage for me."
Coleman had prior commitments and just joined the team yesterday, but is excited for his first experience with Team USA.
"When I talked to Ray [Shero] and Bill Zito [USA general manager], they had a lot of nice things to say about my game and how they saw me fitting into the team and it was obviously pretty easy to say yes," he said. "I'm going to have a pretty heavy PK role, which I'm used to from New Jersey, and coach said he planned to use me up and down the lineup, wherever he needs me to be - left wing or center - and I'm happy to do it. This is my first time being on Team USA and my first time in Europe, so I'm excited to be here."
As far as expectations for Team USA go, they're very high.
"You don't want to always talk about results, but we're here to win," Butcher said. "That's the bottom line. We want to grow as a team and get better every game and be playing our best hockey for the medal round. We're not here to go on vacation and play a little hockey. We're here to win."
USA is in Group B in Herning and kicks off the tournament with a game against Canada on Friday at 10am on NHL Network.
Mueller, Senn and Switzerland are in Group A in Copenhagen and start their tournament on Saturday against Austria.