It was only a week in the summer, but U.S. coach Keith Allain said his first look at the players competing for roster spots for the 2011 World Junior Championship team went as well as he could have hoped.
"My goal going in there was to get to know the guys as hockey players and a little bit as individuals, and also give them a taste of what I'm all about," Allain told NHL.com. "I don't think anybody had a bad camp. Everyone that was there is a legitimate candidate for the national junior team and would do well if put into the tournament."
The week started with three days of intrasquad scrimmages, which allowed Allain to make some cuts and assess the play from above the ice before climbing behind the bench for four games against Finland and Sweden.
"Being able to be on the bench with the guys, seeing how they react in the face of intense competition, was good for me," he said. "I think we got progressively better in the things we wanted to do. Our transition from defense to offense was better on the last day than it was on the first day. I thought we did a better job with getting speed through the neutral zone. Our neutral zone forecheck, which we never really practiced, it was as good as could be expected. And our power play was very effective considering the amount of practice time we had with it."
The U.S. team won its first two exhibition games in dominant fashion. They jumped to a 4-0 lead in the first 4:05 of their first game against Sweden and cruised to a 6-3 victory, and the next day against Finland, they led 4-0 early in the second en route to another 6-3 victory.
After a day off, however, things did not go as well in their rematch with Sweden, last year's World Junior Championship bronze medalists. The U.S. team committed 10 penalties, including three in a row in the second period that led to three Sweden power-play goals in a 2:15 span as Sweden won, 4-1.
"We challenged them as a staff after the second (Sweden) game," Allain said. "We told them we learned a lot about them in that game but we'll learn an awful lot (against Finland) in how you deal with adversity. … (The players) responded just the way I hoped they would."
The U.S. team fell behind 3-1 just 33 seconds into the second period, but scored the game's final seven goals -- including five in the second -- to close camp with an 8-3 victory.
"I guess the biggest thing I learned was the depth and versatility of the group," Allain said. "We can use a lot of guys in different situations and different roles."
Right wing Beau Bennett
, who the Pittsburgh Penguins
took with the 20th pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, led the team in scoring during the four games, with 6 points (all assists), but Allain reserved his highest praise for a group of young centers.
"I would say coming into the camp and assessing the group as a whole, we were going to be looking closely at the young centers and I think they did great job," Allain said. "(Charlie) Coyle, (Nick) Bjugstad, (Austin) Watson, Brock Nelson
… some of the younger guys really had a nice camp."
Bjugstad, the 19th pick of the 2010 draft by the Florida Panthers
, led the team with 3 goals; Coyle, taken with the No. 28 pick in June by the Sharks, had 3 points and was one of the best on the team in faceoffs; Watson, the 18th pick by the Predators, had the first and last goals in the five-goal second-period rally in the second game against Finland; and Nelson, taken No. 30 by the Islanders, had 2 goals and 3 points and showed good presence in front of the net in the offensive zone.
"I don't think anybody had a bad camp. Everyone that was there is a legitimate candidate for the national junior team and would do well if put into the tournament." -- U.S. coach Keith Allain
was the only one of the three goalies to start twice, and he allowed a total of six goals in his two starts -- the first game against Sweden and the second game against Finland. Andy Iles stopped 18 of 21 shots in his lone start, the first game against Finland, and Zane Gothberg
stopped 24 of 28 shots in the second game against Sweden.
Campbell, who was in goal when the U.S. team defeated Canada to win the gold medal in overtime against Canada in Saskatoon in January, likely still has the lead in the race for the starting goaltender spot, but neither Iles nor Gothberg did anything to hurt their chances of making the team. All three will head back to their club teams -- Campbell, the 11th pick of the 2010 draft by the Dallas Stars
, will play for the OHL's Windsor Spitfires; Iles will start at Cornell; Gothberg, a sixth-round 2010 pick of the Boston Bruins
, will play for the USHL's Fargo Force -- and look to build on the good things they accomplished in Lake Placid.
The same can be said for all the players whose hope it is to skate in Buffalo in December and help the U.S. team defend the gold medal it won last year. Allain said he'll start discussing his depth chart with his coaching staff -- Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki
, Stillwater (Minn.) High School and U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Housley and USA Hockey goaltending coach Joe Exter
-- and USA Hockey staff, including GM Jim Johannson and director of player personnel Tim Taylor
. Allain said there will be another camp in mid-December, which will feature 27 or 28 players -- 10 defensemen, 15 forwards and 2-3 goalies, and at that point the final team will be announced.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org