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Collegiate rivals turn teammates for World Juniors

by Mike G. Morreale
The rivalry between NCAA hockey powers Boston College and Boston University will have to be put on hold the next few weeks as players from each side join forces for one common goal.

That, of course, is helping lead Team USA to a gold medal at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5.

When USA Hockey released its list of 29 players for the National Junior Team preliminary camp from Dec. 17-23, there was a pretty significant New England flavor. In fact, 24 percent of the roster included players from either BC or BU and all have rather lofty intentions of surviving the cut.

The U.S. managerial team will likely decide by Wednesday which players actually fit where on this year's squad.

Still, the question remains. Will the four invitees from Boston College and the three from Boston University be able to put aside their differences during camp while coaches determine the best 20 skaters needed for a USA repeat at the WJC?

"We're all looking to make the team and, hopefully, the best players make it," BU 2011 draft-eligible defenseman Adam Clendening said. "I don't think the differences during the season will affect us during the camp on the team. We're all looking to play for our country so, as hockey players, we can set aside our regular season for a couple of weeks and come together as a team."

Clendening, who is projected to go in either the first or second round of the June draft, according to NHL Central Scouting, will be joined by BU forwards Charlie Coyle and Matt Nieto in camp. Coyle was the 28th pick by the San Jose Sharks in 2010, while Nieto is also a projected first- or second-rounder.

Heading the list of Boston College standouts is returning Team USA forward Chris Kreider, the 19th pick by the New York Rangers in 2009. He is accompanied by defensemen Brian Dumoulin, Patrick Wey and Philip Samuelsson.

Kreider played a big role in back-to-back victories over Boston University this month. He scored a goal and added a pair of assists in a 9-5 dusting at Agganis Arena on the campus of BU on Dec. 3 and scored a huge shorthanded goal in a 5-2 win one night later before 7,884 fans at the Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

So if anyone from BC has earned his share of dirty looks, it would most certainly be Kreider.

"I played with (BU defenseman) David Warsofsky on last year's WJC team and am still pretty close with him," Kreider told "The thing is, when you face each other, you play hard, but when you're gunning for the same goal, there's a mutual respect and you're going to be a good teammate.

"It also happened with Wisconsin in last year's national championship game where we played against Team USA teammates John Ramage, Jake Gardiner and Derek Stepan -- we celebrated a gold medal together but played hard against each other in the national championship (won 5-0 by BC)."

"There's really no way around it," Kreider said. "You never really picture yourself in that situation, having a rival in the same locker room as you ... it's kind of eye-opening. But it's also funny how much heated rivals tend to have in common, too."

Actually, Kreider admits there's not as much small talk on the ice between the BC and BU players as some might expect.

"Not more than any other game ... but the pace is quickened," he said. "It is like a playoff environment and it's a very up-tempo game. There are big hits and some chirping out there, but it's nothing out of the ordinary. It's such an enjoyable environment to play in."

Both Clendening and Nieto have been extremely impressive in their collegiate debuts with BU this winter, and Team USA National Junior coach Keith Allain has taken notice.

"I got to see Adam this summer (at National Junior Evaluation Camp) in Lake Placid," Allain said. "He's a guy, to me, who shows tremendous poise with the puck. He's got no panic point and he's a guy who can be a power-play type guy. He can see players away from the puck and can make that first pass out of the defensive zone. We want to be a puck-possession team and he's a puck-possession defenseman."

In 17 games with the Terriers, Clendening has 9 points and a plus-4 rating. He led the U.S. National Under-18 Team's defensive corps with 49 points (14 goals, 35 assists) in 65 games last season. Nieto, who finished third with 28 goals and 54 points in 54 games for the USNTDP last year, has 5 goals and 6 points in 17 games as a freshman at BU this season.

"Nieto has really started to show his ability and he just turned 18 (Nov. 5)," BU's legendary coach Jack Parker told "He's coming into his own on a line with two other freshmen (Coyle and Sahir Gill) and they look terrific. (Nieto) is one of the strongest players on the team despite his 6-foot, 180-pound frame. He's now playing against 23- and 24-year olds, and knocking them around."

Clendening, a native of Niagara Falls, knows those players from the Hockey East Association invited to camp, including defenseman Jamie Oleksiak of Northeastern and forward Connor Brickley of the University of Vermont, will all be on the same page.

"It's a great group of guys battling for spots," Clendening said. "I'm more familiar with the guys from the Boston area and there are a lot of big guys who can play fast, can skate and move the puck. That's what Hockey East is all about -- speed and moving the puck. I think we'll have a team set up for success in a tournament like this."

Team USA General Manager Jim Johannson offered his take -- tongue in cheek -- on which side holds the edge from the Bay State.

"There will be eight kids on a bus coming up from Albany for camp (those from Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern)," Johannson said. "I think it'll come down to whichever group among the BC or BU guys recruits Oleksiak from Northeastern. That team will be in pretty good shape on that bus ride."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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