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Vatrano Hopes to Help USA Win Gold at 2019 World Championship

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Frank Vatrano is ready to don the Red, White and Blue once again.

Following a breakout season with the Florida Panthers, the 25-year-old winger was among the first 17 players announced last week as part of Team USA's roster for the upcoming 2019 IIHF World Championship, which will run from May 10 through 26 in Kosice and Bratislava, Slovakia.

"It's frustrating that we didn't make the playoffs, but it's a chance for me to extend my season and work on my game a little bit," Vatrano recently told FloridaPanthers.com about the honor. "I'm really excited to get over there."

In his first full season with the Panthers, Vatrano, who was signed to a three-year extension in February, was a force at both ends of the ice, setting career-highs in goals (24) and points (39), while also ranking first among the club's forwards in blocked shots (74) and second in hits (139).

Vatrano's 22 even-strength goals were also tied with Aleksander Barkov for the team-lead.

"This was my fourth year in the league, so you kind of start to figure out things on a nightly basis for what you need to be effective," said Vatrano, who was picked up from Boston around the 2017 trade deadline in exchange for a third-round pick. "For me, I think I started to figure that out a little bit this year… Not just scoring goals, but doing all of the little things right."

A native of East Longmeadow, Mass., Vatrano has previously represented the United States in various competitions throughout his career. Prior to turning pro, he won a gold medal at the U-18 World Championship in 2012 and a silver medal at the World Hockey Challenge in 2017.

Following his rookie season with the Bruins, he wore the stars and stripes for the first time as a pro at the 2016 World Championship. He didn't medal, but did succeed in turning a few heads on the international stage, ranking third on the team with eight points (three goals, five assists).

"Whenever you can wear the USA jersey, it's a dream come true," said Vatrano, who spent three seasons with the U.S. National Development Team program prior to his two collegiate seasons at UMass-Amherst. "You never know when you're going to get to wear that jersey again, so whenever you can represent your country, it's an honor."

Among the other players set to compete for Team USA at this year's World Championship are Chicago forward Patrick Kane, who will serve as the team's captain, Arizona forward Clayton Keller, Philadelphia forward James van Riemsdyk, Ottawa forward Colin White, Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes and Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter, just to name a few.

"Whatever role I'm going to have, I'm happy to play it," Vatrano said. "You're playing for your country. You're playing for a medal against the other best countries in the world. To have guys like Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter, guys that have been All-Stars in the league, you can learn a lot from those guys. It's going to be great playing with them."

Looking ahead, Vatrano plans to spend the next few weeks relaxing before heading overseas with the rest of Team USA on May 4 to begin practicing before a pre-tournament game against Germany on May 7. All of Team USA's games in the tournament will air live on NHL Network.

Team USA has medaled in each of the last three World Championships (they took home the bronze in 2013, 2015 and 2018), but hasn't managed to capture that elusive gold since 1960.

"Our goal is to win the gold medal," Vatrano said when asked about his expectations for the tournament. "That's what you want to come home with. Hopefully we jell well together right away. It's going to be a quick turnaround. I'm excited to see what we can do."

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