The final weeks of preparation are upon us for the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship. Team USA’s camp will begin on Friday, December 17, and the competition is going to be fierce.
Twenty-nine players were invited to the camp and only 22 will make the team. The U.S. has the luxury of having eight returnees from last year’s gold-medal winning squad. I can’t see how any of the eight get left off the roster. So let’s take a look at who’s coming back and what we can expect from this outfit.
JACK CAMPBELL – G – Jack Campbell was a hero for last year’s team, coming on in relief in the gold medal game. He made several key stops throughout the contest and never flinched when giving up two late goals to Jordan Eberle. When this guy wears the USA sweater, he is an absolute monster. His focus and competitiveness are unmatched. Just like the U.S. relied on Ryan Miller in the Olympics, Campbell can be relied on by this team. He’s already won three gold medals in international competition and he’s hungry for a fourth. He was the first goaltender selected in the draft last year for good reason. This kid is a BIG GAME goalie. No matter the opponent, he’s going to give you a chance.
JOHN RAMAGE – D – Ramage is the only defenseman returning from last year’s team. He was last seen sending a pass to John Carlson that led to Carlson’s overtime winner against Canada. I think last year’s success has given Ramage a quiet confidence that will be a huge boost to his game this year. He’s the definition of a blue collar player. He will do everything you ask of him and keep his game awfully simple. He’s not going to put up a ton of points, but he is going to give you some leadership and great character on the back end. Additionally, Ramage will hit. He’s going to battle every time out and that’s all you can ask for. If he plays his steady game, he’s going to be a big help to his goaltender. He’s having a great start to his sophomore year at Wisconsin, contributing eight points in 20 games.
The forwards coming back for this team include, Jerry D’Amigo (Toronto Marlies, AHL), Jeremy Morin (Chicago Blackhawks, NHL), Kyle Palmieri (Syracuse Crunch, AHL), Ryan Bourque (Quebec Remparts, QMJHL), Chris Kreider (Boston College, HEA) and Jason Zucker (University of Denver, WCHA).
JEREMY MORIN – F – We’re assuming Morin is available, though he has been up and down with the Blackhawks for the last month or so. The Hawks may have Patrick Kane and Fernando Pisani returning from injury, so the need for Morin could decrease this week. Additionally, the Hawks may be even more inclined to let him come to Team USA, seeing as his teammate in Rockford, Brandon Pirri, was left off of Team Canada’s WJC roster. Morin has scored in his last two NHL games on a Blackhawks team that’s had an anemic offense in spells this year. It’s going to be tight, but I think he’ll be there for the U.S. They’ll hold a spot for him if he is unavailable for camp, just like they did for John Carlson last year.
JERRY D’AMIGO – F – D’Amigo was a sixth round draft pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009. I thought, at the time, that was the steal of the draft. I think the Leafs think so too. After one year at RPI, D’Amigo was signed by the Leafs and was a late cut from their training camp. He’s been playing with the Marlies in the AHL and hasn’t looked out of place as a pro. It should be mentioned that a big reason the Leafs signed D’Amigo was due to his superb play in last year’s World Juniors, when he scored six goals. In international competition, he has been a beast and I don’t expect that to change now. His speed and scoring touch are going to give opponents fits.
KYLE PALMIERI – F – Palmieri was another guy who impressed the club that drafted him in 2009. So much so, that he was signed by the Anaheim Ducks after one year of college. The Notre Dame product has played in 10 NHL games this year, scoring a goal in his debut. He’s another guy that has shone on the international stage. Save for his near disastrous penalty in the gold medal game last year, he was a big time player for Team USA. He plays hard, and as many of the U.S. players, he’s got great wheels. You want guys like Palmieri to be tough to play against, and he will be again this year.
RYAN BOURQUE – F- Ryan, the son of Hall of Famer Raymond, has always been one of my favorite players to watch. He is all energy all the time. In the one year I was able to watch almost every game he played at the NTDP, I never remember him taking a shift off. He’s small, but feisty and he’ll bring that game to Team USA. Bourque already has 20 goals in the Q, and his 39 points rank 15th in the league. He’s another guy that should have an expanded role for the U.S. He’s won gold at the U18 and U20 levels, and I think he’d like to add to his collection.
CHRIS KREIDER – F – Kreider may be one of the fastest players in the world. He certainly is in this age group. He’s not an entirely complete player, but he is getting there. Needless to say, his speed is going make it tough for defensemen on any team. USA Hockey thought so highly of him that he was named to the U.S. Men’s National Team for the 2010 IIHF World Men’s Championship in Germany. So he’s played against top level talent and he’s won a national title at Boston College. This guy knows pressure and he’ll be ready to answer for the U.S. I’m told he had a slow start at BC this year, but is beginning to turn it up. Perhaps he’s kicking it into high gear at just the right time.
JASON ZUCKER – F – Zucker is another one of those players that I just enjoy watching. I was lucky enough to see him grow as a player in his two years at the National Team Development Program and I can honestly say, I wasn’t a bit surprised he made the team as an under-ager last year. He’s lighting it up at the University of Denver right now and I see him in a more expanded role this year at the World Juniors. Team USA will look to him to play a fast and physical game, but I think they can count on him to put the puck in the net. He can be an absolute pest, and he’s good at it. He might chatter on the ice, but he’s always backed it up. Check this stat: Zucker has already won three gold medals at IIHF competition (Jack Campbell has also). He won as an under-ager at the 2009 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Fargo, N.D., the 2010 World Juniors and the 2010 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Belarus. Zucker and Campbell are the only two American men, in history, to have won THREE gold medals. Neither is even 20 yet.
As you can see, the returning group is a solid one. The experience they gained is going to come in handy when they play the world’s best in Buffalo. The other factor that all of these guys bring is that they are winners. Yes, they won last year at the World Juniors, but they have elsewhere. Ramage, Morin, Palmieri, Bourque, Zucker and D’Amigo have all won at the U18 World Championship. Kreider is a national champion with BC. These guys don’t know how to lose. That’s going to help build a winning culture with this new group.
Coming up a little later, we’ll take a look at the battles that will be waged during camp. There are quite a few to keep an eye on.
You can check out the complete camp roster here.