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U.S. set for exhibition opener at Minnesota State

by Mike G. Morreale

MINNEAPOLIS -- For those players on the bubble with visions of earning a roster spot on the United States National Junior Team that will travel to Sweden for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship, the first major test is Tuesday in an exhibition game against Minnesota State University at Verizon Wireless Arena in Mankato (8:37 p.m. ET).

U.S. coach Don Lucia will lead his charges against the Mavericks before making three cuts to pare his roster to 26 players, including 15 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies. The coach will conduct one more practice at Mariucci Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota on Wednesday morning before he and his team depart for Angelholm, Sweden, to continue the evaluation Thursday.

The United States will have exhibition games against Sweden on Dec. 20 and Finland on Dec. 22 before announcing the official 23-player roster headed to Malmo for the WJC that begins Dec. 26.

"We have to make some cuts before we head to Sweden [on Wednesday afternoon] to continue camp," Lucia said. "Against Minnesota State, we have to start forging that identity of our team."

The three cuts likely will be announced Wednesday morning before the team departs for Sweden.

Lucia said on Monday that all three goalies would be traveling with the team to Sweden, despite the fact Thatcher Demko (Boston College, HEA) would not see any action against Minnesota State.

Jon Gillies (Providence College, HEA) will open the game and play the first half and Anthony Stolarz (London Knights, OHL) will take over for the second half of the match. Additionally, Lucia listed six skaters who will travel with the team to Sweden and will not dress for the game Tuesday. They include forwards Nicolas Kerdiles (University of Wisconsin, B10), Daniel O'Regan (Boston University, HEA), Andrew Copp (University of Michigan, B10), Riley Barber (Miami University, NCHC) and J.T. Compher (University of Michigan, B10) and defenseman Matthew Grzelcyk (Boston University, HEA).

"We're putting some people in some roles that if they're going to be on the team, we see them," Lucia said. "We have a couple of lines for the power play and a couple for the penalty kill. We need to get a feel to find out what this group can and cannot do. Hopefully the guys play loose and play to their abilities, even though there is a little pressure involved to play well in order to earn their spot on a plane going to Sweden."

Lucia wouldn't tip his hand when asked if the players listed as healthy scratches for Tuesday were already considered on the official roster.

"I don't want to go out there and say anyone's named to the team," he said. "There are some players we feel we'll have to lean on with this group. We need to see the guys more on the bubble than the guys we have a better viewpoint of. Right now, we do plan to go with 26 guys to Sweden."

Not surprisingly, Lucia and his staff have put young center Jack Eichel (U.S. U-18 NTDP, USHL) in a spot to succeed. He has spent the last three practice sessions on a line between Ryan Hartman (Plymouth Whalers, OHL) and Adam Erne (Quebec Remparts, QMJHL). That trio was also working the first power-play unit during practice on Tuesday morning at Mariucci Arena, along with defensemen Will Butcher (University of Denver, NCHC) and Connor Carrick (Hershey Bears, AHL).

"If he's going to be on our team, he's not going to be on as a fourth-line player," Lucia said of Eichel. "We have to put him with guys we think can score because that's what he is. We need to see if he can play in that type of role for us. I think he's been better every day like a lot of guys have. He's gotten more comfortable. Especially for a younger player who wasn't at our camp this summer, it's important that we show patience. We want to get a good look to see if he can play in that type of role."

Lucia acknowledged that after four practices, he's beginning to get a grasp of strengths and weaknesses.

"As you start to assemble, you're starting to look at guys that can play on the power play and guys who can penalty kill," he said. "If we think we're going to have six guys playing power play and killing penalties, it's just not going to happen.

"Every guy has to be able to do one or the other. I don't think we want a guy on this team that's not going to be good enough to play the power play and can't kill penalties. You need versatility with the group; be able to put them in different situations."

Here is the probable lineup for the United States against Minnesota State:

Stefan Matteau - Vince Hinostroza - Henrik Samuelsson

Adam Erne - Jack Eichel - Ryan Hartman

Tyler Motte - Quentin Shore - Hudson Fasching

Ryan Fitzgerald - Zach Stepan - Tommy DiPauli

Will Butcher - Connor Carrick

Brady Skjei - Brett Pesce

Ian McCoshen - Anthony DeAngelo

Jaccob Slavin- Steven Santini

Jon Gillies (first half of game)

Anthony Stolarz (second half)

Healthy scratches: Daniel O'Regan, Andrew Copp, Riley Barber, Nicolas Kerdiles, J.T. Compher, Matthew Grzelcyk, Thatcher Demko


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