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Four Locals Look to Represent USA at World Juniors

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Team USA’s preliminary roster for its entry at the 2013 World Junior Championship has just three returning players from last year’s squad. And two of those three, forward J.T. Miller and goalie John Gibson, are local products that developed in the Pittsburgh amateur hockey system.

J.T. Miller (left); John Gibson (right); Getty Images

This year, Pittsburgh may have even more representation on the international stage as two more players that came up through the youth hockey system, Vince Trocheck and Riley Barber, may be on the roster alongside Miller and Gibson for the tournament, scheduled for Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia.

“It would be huge for the Pittsburgh area to have four guys on this one team,” Trocheck said.

Miller, Gibson, Trocheck and Barber, who all played for the Pittsburgh Hornets elite travel program and have all been drafted by NHL teams, are among the 27 players named to the 2013 U.S. National Junior Team preliminary roster that are attending training camp Dec. 16-18 at the New York Rangers' Madison Square Garden Training Center in Tarrytown, N.Y.

An additional camp will follow in Helsinki, Finland, with the final 23-man roster announcement scheduled for Dec. 23.

Miller, 19, will be looking to fill a bigger role for Team USA in his second year at the tournament. Because not only is he one of just three returning players, he’s also the only player with professional experience, as this is his first season with the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League (AHL) – the top minor-league affiliate of the New York Rangers.

Miller, the youngest player on the Whale’s roster, is having a stellar December with seven points in eight games. Overall, Miller has 14 points (5G-9A) through 26 games.

“Last year, (my role) was more providing energy for the team, just kind of jump in on offense whenever I can and be steady on both ends,” he said. “But this year, I think I’m going to be the kind of guy that can be key in all situations, in special teams. I might be the only guy with professional experience under my belt and that’s really going to help me going into this tournament. Just trying to be a leader and hopefully I can wear a letter. That would be really nice for me. Just try to lead the team in the right direction, because me and the few guys that were over there last year know what it takes.”

Like Miller, Gibson will also be looking to fill a bigger role – not just as a returning player, but with longtime Team USA starting goaltender Jack Campbell now past the age of eligibility for the tournament.

Gibson has been one of the Ontario Hockey League’s best goaltenders all season, winning 13 of 20 starts for the Kitchener Rangers and posting a .929 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average. Though he was recently sidelined with a hip flexor injury, Gibson is healthy again and likely to take over the starting job for Team USA this year – a position he is going to do everything he can at camp to win.

“That’s my goal heading into camp,” he said. “Hopefully I achieve that, and if I do, I’ll just do my best for the team and take the team as far as possible.”

Trocheck was part of the Pittsburgh area’s largest-ever draft class in 2011 with Miller and Gibson (as well as Brandon Saad) and remains good friends with both of them. He’ll be looking to them for support as he tries to make his first World Junior Championship squad.

“They’ve been through the whole thing,” Trocheck said. “They both were there last year in Calgary. It definitely helps having both of those guys as friends and they’ll be there with me to kind of guide me through it. If I need any help, they’ll help me out with that.”

Trocheck said he’s heading into this week’s camp with no expectations, saying “I’m just really excited to go. I’m just going to go into it and work my hardest and hope that I’m able to make the team. If I’m able to make the team, I’ll go over and do whatever it takes to win a gold medal.”

But Trocheck has certainly been making a case for himself these last few months with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, as he’s having a stellar campaign in his fourth season with the team. Trocheck, 19, is putting up impressive numbers, tied for fifth in league scoring with 24 goals and 50 points in 35 games.

Barber, 18, is also having a big year for his team. The freshman forward at the University of Miami-Ohio, a perennial NCAA Division I men’s hockey powerhouse, leads the Redhawks with eight goals and 22 points in 18 games and leads the entire Central College Hockey Association in scoring.

Miller, Gibson and Trocheck all remember playing with Barber growing up, and are excited to be attending camp with the

“I played with him for a while when I was younger,” Miller said. “He’s always been a great player. I lost track of him for a while, then I saw him in the USHL and played against him my last year. He’s been taking off ever since. I’m happy for him; he definitely deserves it.”

All four players would be ecstatic to represent Pittsburgh on Team USA’s roster in Russia in a few weeks, and are looking for redemption after ending up in the relegation round with a seventh-place finish in last year’s tournament.

“We want to end it on the right note this year and get a little bit of redemption,” Gibson said.

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