It might be an exhibition game between the U.S. and Norway tonight, but I don’t anticipate the U.S. treating it as such. It’s not nearly as big as a tournament game, but its relatively big for the players. Team USA, prior to finalizing its roster for the tournament, lost a pair of exhibitions in the shootout, including one against the Czech Republic. That probably didn’t feel too good. Tonight they get a chance to get it going a little bit.
We may not see a ton of revealing stuff, but I think we’ll get a decent idea of what Keith Allain is thinking as far as lines and systems. Since this team only gets one game to play all together, without the stress of whether or not they’re going to make the team, tonight’s contest should be a spirited affair. Team USA has to build some momentum heading into a tournament in which the expectations are high. I think they should be able to do it fairly easily against a Norwegian team that hasn’t had a lot of ice time in North America, thanks to some lost luggage earlier in the week.
You can’t take Norway lightly. They are going to be fired up for this game, because its likely the only chance they get a crack at the Americans while in the States. I think it will be a moderately competitive game, but if the U.S. comes into this thing fired up, and I think they will, it should be a chance to show that offensive ability.
Here’s what to watch tonight:
– The lines. USA Hockey’s World Junior blog has had the line ups for each of the exhibitions so far, and I’d expect them to have it tonight. This might give us at least an idea of what Keith Allain is thinking for who he wants together. This could get jumbled up as the game goes on, and probably will, but it at least will show who Allain likes together after practice.
– Special teams. If you have the chance to watch the game on FASTHockey.com tonight, keep a close eye on who’s on the ice for power plays and penalty kills. I think Allain might roll out a few different units, but more than likely, he wants to get his top PP unit some reps. So I’d expect to see the likes of Justin Faulk and Jeremy Morin out there in some of those situations. I don’t have a great gauge on the PK, but I had seen that Chris Brown did a nice job out there in the prior exhibitions. I’d also expect to see Ryan Bourque and Jerry D’Amigo getting some reps during the PK as well.
– Jerry D’Amigo. He struggled a bit in camp, but I’m sure he’s ready to shake that off. I’d expect him to be involved a lot tonight in a variety of ways. He needs to get it going. If he gets hot in this tournament, good luck, world.
– Goaltending. I don’t know if Allain will throw Jack Campbell in the net after he got a full game against the Czechs. It’s going to be important to get Andy Iles a few more reps after he barely saw any shots in regulation against RPI, in half a game. However, Campbell is likely the go-to guy. Do you want him to get a few more pucks against Norway? I don’t know. I don’t know how many shots he’ll actually see. Campbell may have taken the shootout loss against the Czechs, but I don’t think that would effect a mentally tough kid like him. I’d like to see Iles in there, just to get the reps and help him get ready if USA needs him at any point.
– Centers. I talked about how the centermen on this club might be a bit of a weakness, if you can call three first-rounders a weakness. It’s not really that they are weak, its just that the wings are so darn good. I am most interested to see how Charlie Coyle is used. The thing I love about Coyle is that he is very versatile. He could be your first-line center, or your shut-down center. His size and strength and good face-off ability makes him a very important player for this team. I also would like to see who Drew Shore gets placed with. He’s the type of center that will help out his wings put the puck in the net. If he’s got one of Team USA’s top snipers with him, you might get an idea of who the assist and goals leaders will be.
Those are probably the things I’m most looking forward to seeing. I won’t have the chance to watch the game live, but I’ll be taking a look at the archive first chance I get. I really do think there is a lot of things we can learn about this team in tonight’s game. It’s not going to tell us everything we want to know, but it at least shows us what this team looks like now that the roster is finalized.
Team USA wants to win this game tonight. They don’t want to hear about how they’re so similar to the 2005 U.S. team that couldn’t get it done on home soil.
The quest for gold begins in earnest tonight.