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U.S. captain Eichel focused on Canada, not McDavid

by Sean Farrell

BROSSARD, Quebec -- United States captain Jack Eichel is focused on a showdown of two powerhouse teams at Bell Centre on New Year's Eve rather than his much-anticipated 1-on-1 matchup against Canada's Connor McDavid at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship.

The consensus top-two 2015 NHL Draft prospects will face each other with their respective undefeated teams Wednesday with a first-place finish in Group A at stake (4 p.m., NHL Network).

"It's not at all about me versus Connor," Eichel said after the United States practiced at the Montreal Canadiens' suburban training facility Tuesday. "It's a huge matchup for the top seed in our bracket, so it's Canada and the U.S."

Eichel, who has a goal and an assist in three U.S. wins (2-1-0-0), said he hasn't watched McDavid much this year.

"He's obviously a good player for a lot of reasons, so that's probably my only comment," the 18-year-old Boston University center said.

McDavid, an Erie Otters forward, has a goal and two assists for Canada (3-0-0-0), which leads Group A following a 4-1 win against defending champion Finland on Monday.

"Well obviously he's one of their many weapons and they just keep on coming at you," U.S. coach Mark Osiecki said. "The depth of their team, you saw it [Monday] night. Just roll them over the boards and high-end talent, and he certainly is one of their top guns."

Osiecki singled out Eichel's leadership abilities and level of maturity.

"He doesn't get rattled and he definitely gives that back to our players and trying to maintain that calmness," Osiecki said.

U.S. forward Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres) said Eichel is "just a strong person."

"He's got obviously an immense amount of pressure on him in this, and there's all the media coverage, but he handles it really well and he carries himself and he really doesn't let it get to him," Fasching said. "I think that's a really big credit to him, his ability to stay poised and stay confident just shows the kind of person he is and the reason he can be a captain."

The atmosphere for the game against Canada will be a stark contrast to what the U.S. players have experienced through their first three games, including a 3-0 win against Slovakia on Monday.

"We talked about going into the game [Monday] potentially the lack of emotion, even for both teams it was just kind of flat," Osiecki said. "[Wednesday] it's going to be the flip of that. It's going to be trying to keep your emotions in check and not have too high, too low, and really try to control your emotions going into that game."

Eichel relishes the opportunity for the United States to wear the black hat in front of a partisan Canada crowd in an NHL arena. It's something he thrives on from his NCAA rivalry games against Boston College.

"I love the B.C.-B.U. matchup," Eichel said. "Whenever I'm at B.C. everyone's rooting against me. It's definitely a lot of fun and it kind of fuels your fire and it makes you want to compete even harder."

The United States defeated Finland in a shootout Friday and shut out Germany on Saturday. Eichel said he expects a physical game against Canada.

"We definitely want to finish our checks," Eichel said. "We think it will help us in the long run. I think playing physical creates space for ourselves, and especially with the type of talent they have up front, they have a lot of good talent up front, they have a lot of good players, so we're definitely going to be physical with their top guys."

Canada is 5-for-10 on the power play. The United States has one goal in 13 opportunities.

"I think we just need to stay disciplined," Eichel said. "That's something that we've been harping on since Day One is just discipline, staying out of the box. I think they have a good power play and I think we have a lot of skill up front where our power play is looking to crack through, so I think we're going to stay out of the box and limit their chances with the odd-man advantage."

Osiecki wants his players focused on possession and puck pursuit.

"Our best defense is maintaining the puck, and if we don't have the puck, how quickly can you get it back," Osiecki said. "[Monday] night we were talking about takeaways going into the game against the Slovaks. We didn't have a lot of takeaways, but we had the puck a lot, so we didn't have to worry about trying to hound the puck down and try to find a way to get it back, so that's probably our best defense, is if we can have the puck and maintain it."

Patrick Kane, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan are among the American alumni throughout the NHL who have reached out to the U.S. team with the hope they can add some blue to what promises to be a sea of red and white.

"A lot of guys have sent messages, so it's fun to see those guys and bleeding the colors," Osiecki said.

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