2014 IIHF Men’s World Championship: Team USA Preview

Ah, Spring. The warming weather, the smell of freshly-cut lawns, baseball, grill food and the granddaddy of them all… the IIHF Men’s World Championship. OK, so maybe not, but the World Championship has been a lot more fun to follow in the last few years thanks to NBC Sports Network televising every U.S. game to give fans without a team in the playoffs something to cheer about at least.

2014_IIHF_World_ChampionshipThe 2014 IIHF Men’s World Championship will be held in Minsk, Belarus starting May 9. All of the preliminary-round games will air live on NBC Sports Network and almost all of them are at decent hours in the day time, not the ungodly hours of Sochi. Phew.

Last year, Team USA ended a nine-year medal drought by winning a surprise bronze with Alex Galchenyuk playing the role of T.J. Oshie in scoring multiple shootout goals to win the game and 20-year-old John Gibson stealing the show. This year, the U.S. has a roster that is even younger and less experienced than the last, but of all the most recent World Championships, this tournament may be the most intriguing to watch.

Team USA’s roster (which you can see here) is rife with young players, some that haven’t even stepped foot in the NHL yet, but are destined to very soon. With an average age of 24.3, the U.S. is bound to be one of the youngest clubs in Minsk.

Coming up after the jump, a look at the tournament, Team USA’s chances, why you should consider watching this year and why this World Championship is the most controversial in recent memory.

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Posted in American Prospects, IIHF Men's World Championship, NCAA, NHL, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey

Jack Eichel: The American Prospect Everyone is Talking About

Jack Eichel is early. The often large spotlight cast on the NHL Draft this time of year seems a bit dim, as if conserving energy for what’s to come. Even two months away from the day every prospect dreams about, the two players NHL GMs are dreaming about won’t be in Philadelphia come June.

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Jack Eichel (Tom Sorensen/USA Hockey)

Eichel, along with Connor McDavid, the player he will likely be pitted against for the remainder of his not-yet-realized career, continue to steal headlines that should probably have been reserved for Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Aaron Ekblad. Heck, there’s actually legitimate debate being had about the Islanders keeping a guaranteed No. 5 pick in this year’s draft or let it slide to Buffalo (to complete a trade) in the off chance they have a shot at Eichel or McDavid. And the crazy part about the debate is that it isn’t crazy in the least.

The Jack vs. Connor debate is going to rage on from now until probably forever, but for now, the banner at the top of this page suggests we should be talking about the next big thing in American hockey.

There are always “Next Ones” in sports. These are the prospects that aren’t just going to be can’t miss. They’re supposed to be among the generational talents, the top of the top, the one percent of one percent. Perhaps the phrase gets tossed around too much, dwindling its value and giving skeptics and even optimistic people rightful pause.

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Posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL Draft, NTDP, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World Junior Championship | 2 Comments

2014 IIHF World Under-18 Championship Team USA Preview

The U.S. National Under-18 Team will look to improve on its silver medal finish at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship this year, while continuing a medal streak that dates back to 2004. The World Under-18 Championship will be held in Laapeenranta and Imatra, Finland, April 17-27.

2014_IIHF_World_U18_ChampionshipsThe U.S. will bring a team to the tournament, as it does every year, comprised primarily of players from the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. Twenty of the 22 players come from the NTDP, in fact. The roster includes several top prospects for the 2014 and 2015 NHL Drafts. It is one of the most highly scouted events on the NHL Draft calendar.

You can follow along as well. FASTHockey.com will stream all of Team USA’s games live and free starting Thursday. Unfortunately, for the first time since 2010, I won’t be calling the games. I had to bow out due to increased responsibilities at CBSSports.com with the NHL playoffs, so I will greatly miss being there for one of my favorite events in hockey. The full broadcast schedule is at the end of this post.

The Under-18 Championship follows the same format as the World Junior Championship. It is a 10-team tournament this year featuring Canada, Finland, Sweden, Russia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Denmark. Players eligible for this tournament were born in 1996 or later.

Team USA will play out of Group B, which includes the Swiss, Czechs, Danes and Finns.

Team USA will be led by head coach Danton Cole, who last guided the U.S. National Under-18 Team to gold at the 2012 World U18 Championship. He’ll bring a highly-skilled roster to Finland with a few key players from outside of the NTDP as well as a few called up from the Under-17 Team.

Coming up after the jump, a complete look at Team USA’s roster, the broadcast schedule and some brief thoughts on the team.

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Posted in American Prospects, NCAA, NHL Draft, NTDP, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World U18 Championship | 1 Comment

Frozen Four: Minnesota, Union Examples of What Makes College Hockey Great

College hockey’s national champion will be crowned Saturday night in Philadelphia. The two teams squaring off for the national title represent both the storied past of college hockey and its future.

On one side sits one of the country’s proudest programs, the University of Minnesota, which is one of the teams you’ll first think of when you think about college hockey and one with five national championships. On the other side, it’s Union College, playing for their first national title after becoming one of the fastest rising programs in all of college hockey.

2014FFHowever, as much as Minnesota represents college hockey’s past, it is a symbol of the future as well. The Gophers have a team full of youth and bright prospects who have helped the program maintain a high level of skill. They’re also part of the new Big Ten hockey conference which has brought about much change to the college hockey landscape.

And as much as Union represents the future of college hockey as a program rising to national prominence, despite having no athletic scholarships to offer and finding players from all corners of North America that other teams missed, they also help honor the past. Playing out of the ECAC, once as strong as any conference in the country and the only conference essentially untouched by realignment.

Whatever the symbolism this game brings, when the puck drops it is only about hockey and with the two teams in the game, we’re in for a treat.

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Posted in NCAA | 2 Comments

15 Reasons To Watch the Frozen Four Tonight

Frozen Four. Those two words alone should be music to the ears of any hockey fan. The greatest spectacle college hockey has to offer is upon us and tonight at 5 p.m. ET, we’ll be treated to one of the great events in the game today. So basically, you probably don’t need a bunch of reasons to watch tonight. You’re already tuning in.

2014FFThat’s not going to stop me for giving the many reasons the 2014 Frozen Four is worth watching for anyone that even remotely likes sports. There really are a lot of reasons to watch, so I had to pare this list down from 1,342 items to the best 15 reasons to tune in.

Both games from today will be on ESPN2 in the U.S. and guess what, Canada? You’re not left out this year. TSN2 picked up the Frozen Four, so you can see some great young Canadian players and some solid prospects for Canadian based teams.

Union meets Boston College at 5 p.m. ET, while Minnesota and North Dakota will clash at 8:30 p.m. The national championship game will air live on ESPN (and I believe TSN2) at 7:30 p.m. ET.

So let’s get to all the reasons you should be watching the Frozen Four starting tonight…

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Posted in NCAA, NHL | 1 Comment

Mark Osiecki named head coach of 2015 U.S. National Junior Team

Mark Osiecki has been named head coach of the U.S. National Junior Team for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship, USA Hockey announced today. The former Ohio State head coach has been an assistant on each of the last three medal-winning U.S. National Junior Teams including the golden entries in 2010 and 2013 and the 2011 bronze medalist.

Osiecki is currently an assistant coach with the Rockford IceHogs, American Hockey League affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. Prior to that, he spent three seasons as the head coach at the Ohio State University from 2010-2013. He was shockingly let go after building substantial momentum for the program in his three years there, for reasons that have remained unclear. It sent shockwaves through the college hockey community, but Osiecki landed on his feet well with Rockford.

From 2004-10, Osiecki served as an assistant coach at his alma mater, the University of Wiconsin, helping the team to the 2006 NCAA national championship and developing a reputation as an expert recruiter. Osiecki also was a head coach in the United States Hockey League for seven years with the Green Bay Gamblers. He led the team to the Clark Cup in 2000.

In a lot of ways, Osiecki has been groomed for this job, having served as an assistant coach for three different head coaches, all of which brought home a medal of some color including two of the three world titles owned by the U.S. at the World Junior Championship. Additionally, Osiecki worked closely at Wisconsin with head coach Mike Eaves, who guided Team USA to its first ever WJC gold in 2004.

Osiecki’s international resume is long with stints at other events like the Ivan Hlinka and Men’s World Championships.

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Posted in Junior Hockey, NCAA, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World Junior Championship | 2 Comments

2014 Frozen Four Preview: Minnesota, Boston College, Union & North Dakota at a Glance

Thursday marks the beginning of the end of the 2013-14 college hockey season. Only four teams remain and they’ll all be in Philadelphia Thursday competing for a spot in Saturday’s national championship game.

2014FFThe two best teams in the East have the early game as Union meets Boston College at 5 p.m. ET, while traditional rivals Minnesota and North Dakota will meet at 8:30 p.m. ET. Both games are on ESPN2.

The folks over at USCHO, College Hockey News and various other hockey outlets have a bunch of great preview coverage as well, so be sure to check those out. I wanted to put together some basic preview pieces for the casual college hockey fans out there that are either tracking their favorite team’s NHL prospect or just enjoy the fact that they can watch some college hockey on a basic cable network. Whatever your reason, the Frozen Four is pretty much never dull and one of the great showcases in all of hockey.

Coming up after the jump, a quick look at all four teams including why they can win, why they’re vulnerable and five players from each squad to keep a close eye on.

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Posted in NCAA | 1 Comment