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Net play looks to be a plus this time for U.S.

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

"I think as far as position, our goaltenders, Mike Lee and Jack Campbell, were outstanding. When it counted against the Russians, Mike gave up one goal in two (exhibition) games. Jack only played the one game, but he was tested more than Mike. Both goaltenders can play."
-- Dean Blais

One of the reasons the United States team finished fifth at the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa was poor goaltending.

If anything was proved at the recent national junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., goaltending should be a strength for the 2010 team that will head to Saskatchewan in late December.

Of the four goaltenders invited to the camp, Michael Lee and Jack Campbell seemed to put themselves ahead of the pack.

"I think as far as position, our goaltenders, Mike Lee and Jack Campbell, were outstanding," U.S. coach Dean Blais told NHL.com. "When it counted against the Russians, Mike gave up one goal in two (exhibition) games. Jack only played the one game, but he was tested more than Mike. Both goaltenders can play."

Lee, a 2009 third-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes, was barely tested in an 8-1 win in the first game, and was equally strong in the fourth game, a 6-0 victory. After a finishing second in the USHL last season with 26 wins and .918 save percentage playing for the Fargo Force, Lee will play this season at St. Cloud State University.

Campbell, the youngest player at the camp, backstopped the U.S. team to a 6-1 win in the second game. Where Lee was barely tested, Campbell saw a strong Russian effort that forced him to kill off three 5-on-3 power plays.

"We won 6-1, but the turning point in that game for us was killing those 5-on-3s and Jack had two saves I can remember that were outstanding," Blais said. "He would square up to the puck and control the rebounds."

Blais said his goal going into Lake Placid was to emerge with 15 players locked into roster spots. While no announcements on the team makeup will be made until after a tryout camp in December, Blais feels he accomplished his goal.

"I think we were real pleased with about that exact number," Blais said. "I think the others, some of the guys who were released (in first cuts), are still in the mix. Some guys weren't in as good shape as they could be in, some didn't get the kind of ice time this summer as others, but that'll all shake out in the next few months."

Blais said one player who surprised him with his play was forward Danny Kristo, who had a team-best 3 goals while playing in three games against Russia.

"He's a good hockey player, but in the (intrasquad) games and against Russia, he was a scoring machine," Blais said. "He was very surprising. ... I think he had a real good summer and conditioned himself and was really ready to go."

Blais also was impressed with how his team rebounded after losing to Russia in the third game, 6-4, a contest played on the famed 1980 Rink in Herb Brooks Arena, the site of the famed U.S. "Miracle on Ice" win against the Russians. One night later, the U.S. took the fourth game, 6-0.

"We competed hard and showed grit and character," Blais said. "We got beat 6-4 and came back to eat them 6-0. We came back and showed character and that's what you like to see coming off a loss."

Blais said the heavy on-ice workload during the week-long camp was a good preview of what would be coming for the players at the World Juniors.

"It was a grind," Blais said. "It was a long time out there and that's the way it's going to be in Saskatchewan. It gets to be a little long and ... the intensity of the tournament can wear you out."

While his players are getting ready for their seasons, Blais is preparing for his first campaign at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, but he'll also spend time watching players for the World Junior team. There will be one final tryout camp, starting Dec. 15 in Grand Forks, N.D., and then the roster will be set.

"There will be players that didn't play all that well in Lake Placid who will take a step in the right direction, and some that will go the other way," Blais said. "That's why they didn't name anyone."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com
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