Team USA’s camp is just getting underway today in New York. This is just the second year of the pre-tournament camp, where USA Hockey brings in a bigger group just before the tournament to further narrow down its roster.
USA Hockey had always just had the National Junior Evaluation Camp held every August in Lake Placid. They would then scout the players throughout the year, when they could, and make their decisions based on that. When I was the intern at USAH, I seem to recall us announcing the team during the first week of December, for the 2008 WJC. The team gathered a week before the tournament, all knowing they had a spot. They practiced and scrimmaged and played a few exhibitions and then, off to Europe.
Years of falling short caused USA Hockey to reevaluate how the team is selected and how the players are scouted. This year, the team will be announced around Dec. 22. No one’s spot is guaranteed, and they have to be competitive right away.
In its first year of holding a pre-tournament camp, the U.S. won gold. Coincidence? Maybe, but I think its got more to do with the dedicated work of the most behind-the-scenes guy for this U.S. National Junior Team.
A big factor in last year’s success was that USA Hockey dedicated a full-time scout to help with the selection of its junior team. That man? Tim Taylor, the former Yale coach of 28 years, 1994 Olympic coach and former NTDP assistant. He’s got a real eye for talent and a hockey IQ that probably can’t be measured. He’s spent the last two years in hockey rinks all over North America. While he scouts for this year’s team, he’s got an eye on the future. Making notes of who to watch for next year’s club.
Because Taylor, operating under the title of director of player personnel, is able to dedicate himself fully to scouting for USA Hockey, he’s able to see more players on more than one occasion to get the best feel for them. When you see guys who weren’t in Lake Placid in August make this pre-tournament camp (Jamie Oleksiak and Mitchell Callahan come to mind), odds are it was because Taylor saw them play three or four times. Conversely, you might say, well why isn’t so and so here? Well, maybe its because Tim Taylor saw him three or four times and that player didn’t produce.
That said, the coaches and Jim Johannson, Team USA’s GM, get out and scout as well. When the selection meetings are taking place and the others don’t have a good book on a certain player, Taylor inevitably does. He’s a trusted advisor to USA Hockey, and especially to head coach Keith Allain, who was Taylor’s successor at Yale. It’s certainly a group effort to build the team, but the MVP might be Taylor.
Taylor has been around the game forever. He’s one of the most respected individuals in American hockey. He’s past retirement age, but there’s no way I could see this guy settling down. The game of hockey drives him.
So when you’re watching Team USA try to defend the gold medal this year, don’t forget about the man behind the curtain. Tim Taylor.