Team USA now knows that it will head to Ufa without Ottawa first-rounder Stefan Noesen. The big right winger leaves a void not easily filled, but the U.S. has some good options in camp and will not be adding any other players to the preliminary roster.
Getting back to the IIHF decision however, it was interesting that in USA Hockey’s statement, Dave Ogrean, the executive director for the organization said he didn’t feel the IIHF’s process was “equitable.” It’s a very interesting deviation from previous USA Hockey releases, often uncontroversial and simply the facts.
The IIHF has a history of being inconsistent in its decisions, sometimes getting overly technical with its interpretation of its own rules. While the details on why it chose to keep Noesen out are still mostly unknown, this isn’t the first time USA Hockey has been burned by the IIHF this year.
USA Hockey experienced the inequities in the IIHF’s decision process when the international governing body ruled Stefan Matteau ineligible to play for Team USA at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship last April. The IIHF ruled that Matteau did not meet the citizenship requirements to play for the U.S. as a dual-citizen in Canada because he had not lived in the U.S. for 24 consecutive months prior to the tournament. That was an unprecedented decision and the IIHF, which had allowed many players in the past with more questionable citizenship issues to play. The IIHF later backtracked and ruled over the summer that Matteau was indeed eligible to play for the U.S., though it already cost the Chicago-born forward his shot at the U18WC. Matteau is now in camp vying for a spot on the Junior team.
While the Matteau and Noesen decisions harm the U.S. national teams on some level, it takes away opportunities from young players and that’s where it gets unfortunate. Ogrean also said “Moving forward, we’ll work with the IIHF and other federations to address the situation.”
The rule in question is By-Law 302, which leaves room for the IIHF to make its own decision regarding these suspensions.
What makes this ruling perhaps a bit too harsh is that, had Noesen had made this same hit a week earlier, the IIHF doesn’t pay any attention to it. His suspension would have been complete, but because it happened two weeks before the tournament and Noesen’s team doesn’t play enough games between now and then to forgive at least part of the suspension, he’s out. That’s where it becomes a little less fair.
If the OHL chose, they could keep the remainder of his suspension on hold until he gets back from the WJC and the punishment is still levied appropriately. Him losing the WJC in addition to 10 games in the OHL is where the punishment goes over and above what is probably necessary for the hit. No question the hit requires supplementary discipline, but perhaps not this much.
A perfect example this already exists. Jonathan Huberdeau, a forward for Team Canada, was suspended by the QMJHL for only four games after an incident where he pushed a linesman in the midst of trying to engage in a fight. The linesman was injured. Despite the fact that Huberdeau would have missed his team’s games while attending Canada’s pre-tournament camp, his team will have played four games before the tournament, erasing his suspension in the eyes of the IIHF.
Additionally, different leagues rule in different ways. The Q saw Huberdeau’s infraction as worth four games, while the OHL, which has taken a hard line on checks to the head, threw the book at Noesen (though it is very consistent with what the league has done so far this year in regards to hits to the head). If he’s in a different league, he might not have gotten 10 games.
This is the set of circumstances, unique to Noesen, that are going to keep him from participating in the World Junior Championship. That’s where USA Hockey’s cries of inequity have merit.
Noesen certainly deserved the suspension, but he’s also being punished for the timing of the hit and that’s where it becomes unfair to the player. Expect this rule to get reviewed in the future, as Ogrean suggested it would.
Now that the U.S. knows it has to move on without Noesen, here’s a look at their options.
USA Hockey has four natural right wingers in camp. Noesen was expected to be a potential scoring-line, top-six type of winger, using his good power game to create offense and bring a little grit.
The U.S. has J.T. Miller as a clear No. 1 right wing. Though he plays center in the AHL, Team USA had him at RW for the entirety of its summer camp. With Noesen out, Miller’s move to the wing is less of a luxury and more of a necessity now.
Riley Barber seems like a likely option to play in a scoring role now, jumping from “bubble” to “likely” for Team USA. Barber doesn’t have Noesen’s size, but he’s shown solid puck skills and vision. If he gets paired with some strong finishers at center and left wing, he’ll be a great complimentary player.
The loss of Noesen could also end up being a gain for Plymouth teammate Ryan Hartman. The right winger plays a gritty game on top of being able to contribute offensively. He can move up the depth chart a bit with the way he creates. Hartman also has decent two-way capabilities, so his versatility should help fill that void a little bit left by Noesen.
Tyler Biggs might have to jump into a more established role as well, perhaps in more of a scoring-line situation as opposed to being a checking forward. Biggs has some good offensive capabilities despite not having those high-end puck skills. He adequately replaces Noesen’s power-forward game and size. Biggs was likely to make the roster either way, but the loss of Noesen makes his role all the more important.
The U.S. could also choose to move Rocco Grimaldi into a RW role from center. The North Dakota freshman has been very effective on the wing this year and could easily slot into a top-six role there. Moving to the wing frees him up a bit offensively and gives Grimaldi more leeway in taking chances up the ice. Should USA move him over (though he likely would play center at times anyway), that could change how they arrange the centers, with five very different guys brought into camp that play that position.
This unexpected turn of events really puts Team USA in a bit of a bind. It weakens the right side, which was a position of real strength coming into camp. They have good options, but Noesen brought that right mix of speed, skill and toughness that USA Hockey has come to love so much. It’s not a crushing loss, but it will be felt.