U.S. hopes familiarity breeds quick chemistry for WJC
Some might say familiarity builds contempt, but for USA Hockey, familiarity appears to be the organization's greatest ally when it comes to building the team that will go to Russia for the 2013 World Junior Championship.
Of the 27 players invited to USA Hockey's national junior team selection camp, 25 were part of the final 34-player group that skated in exhibition games against teams from Sweden and Finland in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August.
With players coming from teams and leagues throughout North America and a short window in which to build a cohesive unit for one of the most important hockey tournaments of the year, players having some built-in familiarity with each other only can be seen as a positive.
"I'm just glad that this team that was announced today will have some chemistry because they were together in Lake Placid," U.S. coach Phil Housley said. "That's going to help because we don't have a lot of time to prepare like other countries. Even Canada, I think they're going to have more prep time. Any time you get a group of guys together and you can return again together, I think they can pick up right where they left off."
Where the group left off in Lake Placid was a 10-2 rout of defending champion Sweden and a split against Finland. A number of players those teams brought to Lake Placid will be on their nations' squads for the WJC.
Those teams likely will have more pre-tournament time together than Team USA, which makes any bit of familiarity that much more important.
"The challenge with us is we don't have extended international break programs like some of our European countries' teams do, and the coaches are around the players a lot more," Team USA GM Jim Johansson said. "We have a limited time for our coaches to be around the players. And they also come to our program and might be asked to do one thing and when they're playing on their team they're used in a different capacity. It's important to build identity and chemistry in the camp."
All nine blueliners and 13 of the 15 forwards picked for the selection camp were in Lake Placid, including all three forwards from Team USA's top line in Lake Placid -- Sean Kuraly, Mario Lucia and Stefan Noesen.
Another line that worked well was Vincent Trocheck centering J.T. Miller and Nicolas Kerdiles. Trocheck and Miller were invited to camp, and Kerdiles could join them.
Kerdiles, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, has played just two games due to a 10-game suspension by the NCAA over amateurism issues and a knee injury. A 2012 Anaheim Ducks draft pick, Johansson said Kerdiles still is under consideration for a camp spot.
"He is a player that's continued to be evaluated," Johansson said. "We have not ruled out the idea of adding a player yet to the camp. Nic is a guy that falls into that category, because of everything he's gone through this past season. … He does have a body of work with us but he's also getting his feet under him this year.
"We are continuing to evaluate him and have not ruled out the idea of bringing another player into the camp."
Another player who already knows his potential teammates and the coaching staff? That sounds like someone who could fit in just fine.