2012 WJC: Highlights from the Johannson/Blais Media Teleconference

There’s been plenty of analysis on this blog over the last few days regarding the U.S. National Junior Team’s preliminary roster. So there’s been enough of my blabbering. It’s time to hear from the people most directly linked to the selection of this roster.

Tuesday, Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations and GM of the U.S. National Junior Team and head coach Dean Blais, were part of a media teleconference.

They covered everything from style of play to what will be expected in camp to thoughts on individual players. Coming up after the jump, I’ll share some of the main highlights from the call.

Jim Johannson on the camp roster:

 We’re excited about the depth we have in net in Jack Campbell and John Gibson and the experience that both those players have.

The defense corps has a nice mix of guys with good experience and good success internationally and some rising players that are projected to be real top players in future NHL drafts, but are guys that have played well for us internationally already.

Up front we have a lot of depth. It was very very difficult to get this list down to 17 forwards. There are a lot of good players not on this list.

I think our philosophy going into this was to give Dean the most assets we can for him to build the type of team that he wants out there which is obviously a competitive team that competes all over the ice and can skate.

Dean Blais on this U.S. National Junior Team’s intended style of play:

I think it’ll be a speed [team] and definitely think that we chose a lot of these players that can get up and down the ice. There are certain players that were left off because of lack of it. We’ll have to work hard on defensive zone coverage and backchecking and some of the grit that it’s going to take to win a medal. Definitely speed and transition are two of the things for sure that will be daily in practice. Our practices will be high tempo. That will be part of the evaluation.

Jim Johannson on the inclusion of Jon Merrill, who was suspended by the University of Michigan for the first half of the 2011-12 season:

We’ve been in communication with Red Berenson and the University of Michigan. Jon’s situation at Michigan is that he’s being supported by Michigan and his participation with us is being supported by Red and Michigan. That was important for us in Jon’s involvement and his continued development as a student-athlete.

With us, Jon’s got a long history in our programs and has performed extremely well for us and carried himself well in everything he’s done with us. For him to be involved with us, we, number one, wanted to make sure Michigan was on board with it and they are. Second, can he help our team?  We think he can help our hockey team.

So that led to his involvement with us. He’s been skating and he’s in great shape and should be ready to go, if his playing history carries with him, we expect him to be a big part of this team.

Johannson on the inclusion of Brandon Saad, who turned down an invitation to the National Junior Evaluation Camp over the summer:

There’s so much asked of the players in their draft year and there’s a lot of things that went on that led to him not being in our camp.

The bottom line with him is that he had to show us that he wanted to be part of the program and that his level of play was going to be what we were looking for.

He got off to a great start with Chicago, playing a couple of the games for the Hawks. More importantly for us, when he went to Saginaw, he performed well, he’s competing in all aspects of the game that we saw in him as a younger player and quite frankly what he needed to improve on. He’s shown that and we went out and watched him quite a bit. We’re excited for him to be up at the camp and to earn a spot on the team. We know he’s coming in with the mindset to come show that.

Johannson on Justin Faulk’s availability status:

We’ve been in communication with Carolina Hurricanes and we don’t have a set-in-stone date, so to speak, for when that decision is made. We have stated that we want him to be part of our camp. That’s known by all parties.

It really just kind of falls out to where things are at with Carolina and Justin and what they feel is best for the Carolina Hurricanes and Justin Faulk as a player in their organization.  They need to do what’s best for Carolina and Justin Faulk.

We would be excited for the opportunity for Justin to join us and we feel he could benefit greatly as a player with the role he would play on this team and the level of competition at the World Juniors and how that could possibly springboard him into the second-half of his professional season.

Johannson on Nick Bjugstad and raising expectations for returning players:

Nick Bjugstad, the exciting part for us, we’ve seen the maturation of this player. He has huge upside in his game and is putting more and more of that together and obviously has had success early in the season with the Gophers.

He’s a little bit stronger this year. Everything that he did last year he’s doing at a slightly higher pace and with a little more strength behind it, so he’s having that much more success. That’s part of a player’s development overall, but I think in the case of Nick and the talent that he has, so far this year he has put it together.

From our standpoint, we look at what he did last year and we’ve raised that level of expectation of him this year. That’s going to be a natural thing with some of the guys that played for us last year and what they have to bring to this team this year to have success.

Dean Blais on Jack Campbell:

As good as Jack is [as a player], he’s a great guy and a good team guy and he’s a great competitor. Any goal that goes in, he takes seriously. He’s a special guy and the rest of the team plays off that, his attitude and he’s a leader.

Johannson on Jack Campbell and this year’s goaltending depth:

He’s a very competitive and well-liked teammate. The goaltending this year was another tough decision.

Jack’s got the huge pedigree, but the bottom line is we had three exceptional goaltenders playing well in Campbell, John Gibson and Andy Iles and we feel strongly about how we process things in our camp in getting two guys up there and ready to go.

[Campbell is] a guy that kept us in games and players gain confidence when you’ve got good goaltending in the net. Going into this, we’re excited not only for Jack and his level of play, but the depth we have at that position overall.

Blais on Jason Zucker:

Jason Zucker doesn’t have a real weakness to his game. He’s a leader at Denver.

When he was up in Saskatoon, he was just a role player, didn’t get much ice time, but he gave us whatever he could.

Obviously he’s stepped up, he’s gotten better every year, on the power-play, penalty kill, he’s fast, he’s tough, he finishes his checks, he blocks shots. I think he’s a future NHL player just in the things I’ve seen him improve on.

The biggest thing for him is he’s a leader and I think he’s going to rub off in a real positive way on the team.

Johannson on Zucker:

We put a video together for our players two years ago, this is what USA Hockey is, this is how we want to play in the several aspects of speed, transition, blocking shots. I think I could have put Jason Zucker in every single clip because he does all of those things well.

I think, in his case, he’s learned that he has to do all those things well to be a top-end player. He’s a guy with great experience, but also a guy that has learned about his game coming through all this and when he has success and I know he’s going to be ready for the championship.

Johannson on Charlie Coyle:

Charlie Coyle played well for us last year in Buffalo. We probably put him in a little higher role than you’d like to for a guy with the level of experience that he had coming into the tournament, but he flat out earned the ice time.

With Charlie, the size and strength and the below-the-circle game he has can lead to being a real dominant force in this championship.

Dean Blais on another kick at the can behind the bench for a U.S. National Team:

It’s always an honor to represent your country. USA Hockey has been a big part of my life since I got into coaching. To play and represent your country in Canada could not be better. For me, this is about as good as it gets.

There’s plenty more from the call and you can listen to it in its entirety at this link.

Johannson and Blais sound confident about the group they’ve brought in and feel strongly that this will be a competitive camp. There should be a lot of tough decisions to be made when it comes to finding those crucial role players, but the pool that they’ll have to select from in Alberta is plenty deep.

The U.S. National Junior Team’s preliminary camp takes place in Camrose, Alberta, Dec. 17-23. The final roster is expected to be announced on Dec. 22.

You can continue to expect wall-to-wall Team USA coverage on United States of Hockey from now all the way through the end of the World Junior Championship.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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