There was a lot of disappointment within USA Hockey after the team sent to the 2009 World Junior Championship finished fifth.
One year later, three members from that squad will get a chance to avenge the team's worst finish since placing fifth in 2002. Forwards Jordan Schroeder
, Danny Kristo
and Tyler Johnson will be counted on to provide some of their less-experienced teammates with the knowledge they gained last year in Ottawa.
"Whether they (returning players) are captains or not, we'll let players vote on captains, and then we'll decide on how they vote," U.S. coach Dean Blais told NHL.com. "It certainly helps Jordan Schroeder
especially, who's had success scoring, knows what it takes to be in the medal round and playing for a medal. Whether we have that ability or not we'll see real quick. Before we even start thinking about medals, we have to take care of getting there."
That road starts Dec. 26 against Slovakia (8 p.m., NHLN-US) at the Credit Union Centre in Saskatoon, Sask.
"If we have any chance at all, we have to play with a lot of enthusiasm and energy and create turnovers," Blais said.
Schroeder will be at the front of the line leading the team. Playing in his third WJC, the Vancouver Canucks
' 2009 first-round pick is just six points shy of Jeremy Roenick
's all-time U.S. Under-20 scoring mark. At the 2009 tournament, he led the team with 8 assists and 11 points. This season, the University of Minnesota sophomore is second on the team with 12 points in 18 games.
"He's got to be the energy guy," said Blais. "He's got to be the guy killing penalties, the difference-maker on the power play. He's going to have to play above the checking line of whoever he's out here against. That's what he's going to get, especially when we don't get the last change. We're going to have to make sure he plays with a lot of energy and second-effort in his game. He's going to need it because he's going to be our marked guy."
Kristo had just 1 goal in six games last year, but he'll play a far more prominent role this season. He was impressive at a summer camp in Lake Placid, and the Montreal Canadiens
' 2008 second-round pick has kept that pace up in his first season at the University of North Dakota, where he leads the team in scoring with 16 points in 18 games.
Johnson, who plays for the WHL's Spokane Chiefs, had just 1 goal last year, but his grit and determination will be key for the United States in 2010.
Among the newcomers are four first-round Entry Draft picks -- defenseman John Carlson
(Washington, 2008) and Jake Gardiner
(Anaheim, 2008), and forwards Chris Kreider
(N.Y. Rangers, 2009) and Kyle Palmieri
Also making the team are four players available for the 2010 Entry Draft -- goaltender Jack Campbell
, defenseman Cam Fowler
and forwards Luke Walker
and Jason Zucker
. Defenseman John Ramage
-- son of former NHL player Rob Ramage -- is also draft eligible after going unselected last year.
Ramage, who was not invited to the summer evaluation camp in Lake Placid, earned a spot because the 6-foot, 184-pounder brings a level of physicality Blais felt his team needs.
He made the team ahead of more well-known players like Blue Jackets 2009 first-round pick John Moore and Red Wings prospect Max Nicastro
, who was one of two final cuts made following Tuesday's exhibition game against the Czech Republic.
"He gave us the real physical part of the game we needed," said Blais. "We need defensemen who can make the outlet passes and make plays, but you need bangers back there. Ramage gives that to us. When it comes right down to it … we need Ramage and his physical presence maybe more than John Moore and his puck-moving ability and his skill."
Walker and Zucker also were surprises that even Blais didn't think were going to make the team. Both made the squad ahead of Coyotes prospect Chris Brown
, who also was sent home after Tuesday's game.
""If we have any chance at all, we have to play with a lot of enthusiasm and energy and create turnovers."
-- U.S. coach Dean Blais
Of Zucker, Blais said, "We didn't want to take him, but he made it. He played with good energy, good size, good instincts. He made the team on his ability. He deserved it."
Walker, who like Zucker was not invited to Lake Placid, might have been an even bigger surprise. Walker, a right wing with the WHL's Portland Winterhawks, was hit in the face by a puck Dec. 8 and had a plate surgically implanted in his chin. Walker was off the ice for a week, and his first game back was Tuesday's exhibition loss to the Czech Republic.
"He came in all beat up and we weren't calling on him, but when he got on the ice you could see he had some hockey moxie and wasn't out of place," said Blais. "He looked like a hockey player. He's got a good shot and good understanding of the game."
Blais said he had not made a decision on who his starting goaltender would be. Campbell and Mike Lee, a 2009 third-round pick of the Coyotes, split the two exhibition games, and Blais said each will get a chance in the first two WJC games -- Saturday against Slovakia and Sunday against Switzerland (4 p.m. ET, NHLN-US).
"Both have played pretty well," said Blais. "Both are capable. … We've got two good ones, let's put them in there and see what happens."
Blais is taking a wait-and-see attitude as the U.S. team tries for its first WJC medal of any kind since 2007.
"I'm really excited about this team," said Blais. "We have a good mixture of speed and grit, and we look forward to the challenge ahead of us."
U.S. TEAM WJC SCHEDULE
(all games televised live on NHLN-US)
Dec. 26 -- Slovakia, 8 p.m. ET
Dec. 27 -- Switzerland, 4 p.m. ET
Dec. 29 -- Latvia, 4 p.m. ET
Dec. 31 -- Canada, 8 p.m. ET
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com