Editorial note: The recap of the 2011 Under-18 Five Nations Cup, in which the U.S. National Under-18 Team played, will be out Tuesday afternoon as part of the American Prospect Update.
Every February, the U.S. National Under-17 Team from the National Team Development Program heads to Slovakia to compete in the Vlad Dzurilla Under-18 Tournament. The U17s play against opponents that are a year older. The opposing countries, Germany, Switzerland and particularly Slovakia will have teams with the vast majority of their best under-18 players available to them.
Danton Cole’s team of 1994 birth years went into Slovakia and just dominated the competition. The U.S. opened with a 5-1 over Switzerland, and followed that up with a 5-1 victory over Germany. Team USA then closed out the event by downing host Slovakia, 2-1.
Winning the tournament is not unprecedented. In fact, the 1992s, 91s and 90s all won the tournament in their U17 seasons, but none of those groups ever won all three games while doing it. So it’s quite the accomplishment for this squad to win the tournament with a perfect record.
After the jump, a look at the statistical standouts from the Vlad Dzurilla, as well as a deeper look at the U.S. National Under-17 Team’s incredible season so far.
After seeing this group play and dominate at the 2010 Under-17 Four Nations Cup in Woodridge, Ill., in November, I knew it was special. The team’s ride all the way to the championship game at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge was no fluke either. Despite losing the title game to Canada Ontario, this team has done nothing to sway me from believing we may have one of the finest birth years ever to play at the National Team Development Program. Seriously.
I’ve often compared the 94s to the 1992s that featured Jon Merrill, Derek Forbort, Jarred Tinordi, Justin Faulk, Jack Campbell, Jason Zucker and Brandon Saad, just to name a few. As good as that group was, I’m beginning to allow myself to believe that the 1994s might be better as an entire team.
Like the 1992s, this team doesn’t have an elite go-to goal scorer. However, that’s hardly mattered due to the ability to roll all four lines and anticipate offense from each. The biggest difference is that the 1994s don’t have Jack Campbell, always the X factor. That said, the goaltending tandem of Collin Olson and Jared Rutledge is very good. Campbell is a tough act to follow.
Where this team is also similar, but in some ways better, is that its blue line is absolutely drool-worthy. Size, strength, brains, skill, speed, offense, defense, you get it all with this group of defensemen. It is stacked from top to bottom and no two defensemen are the same. They all bring something a little bit different, which is very fun to watch.
Enough of my personal thoughts… let’s look at the facts:
The last time this team lost a game? Jan. 4. The championship game at the World U17 Challenge. They’ve only played eight games between then and now, but the’ve won all eight. That includes five games against very stiff competition from the United States Hockey League. Want to hear something scarier? In its last 20 games, Team USA is 18-2. Here’s the breakdown dating back to a December 12:
U17s vs. USHL — 6-1
U17s at WU17HC — 6-1
U17s at Vlad Dzurilla — 3-0
It is also important to keep in mind that this U.S. National Under-17 Team is just the second in recent NTDP history to have gone up primarily against the USHL. Previously, U17 Teams put up great numbers against the North American Hockey League. The fact that this edition of U17s is having this success against what should be considered much stiffer competition is mind boggling.
Additionally, the U17s have posted a sparkling 13-1 record in international competition this season, winning both the 2010 Under-17 Four Nations Cup in November, and the Vlad Dzurilla just last weekend, and placing second at the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. In 14 international games, Team USA has outscored its opponents 76-25. In eight of those 14 games, the U.S. allowed just one goal and in 11 games scored four or more goals. Only two of Team USA’s 13 wins were decided by one goal.
Internationally and, of late, domestically, this team has shown that its future is bright. The final factor I will leave you with on this group ss a whole is that they still have a lot of developing left to do. They’re not done yet. Frightening.
Now that I’ve gotten over my breathless reporting on how good I think this team is and will be in the future, let’s take a look at some of the players that shined, statistically at least, at the 2011 Vlad Dzurilla Tournament (verbal college commitments are in parenthesis):
Cameron Darcy (Northeastern) — F — The big forward scored at least once in every game, finishing the tournament with four goals. Prior to the Vlad Dzurilla, Darcy had just one goal in international play. He brings a physical presence, but last time I saw him there were flashes of his offensive ability. Perhaps he’s beginning to tap into it more. If so, it’s just another threat on this offensively gifted team. Hopefully Darcy doesn’t lose that South Boston-edge to his game.
Ryan Hartman (Miami) — F — Offense has never been a question for Hartman. He continued his solid production with one goal in each of Team USA’s three games. Nine of his 15 goals this season have come in international play. As he continues to build strength, we may begin to see more goals out of him in USHL play as well. Still, he’s offensively gifted and has a nose for the net. Hartman should always be a source of production for his team.
Henrik Samuelsson (uncommitted) — F — After a breakout performance at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, in which he was among the tournament point leaders, Samuelsson continued his offensive output. With four assists in the tournament, Samuelsson led Team USA in that category. He has Team USA’s highest point total this season with 27 in 35 games. He is bigger and stronger than the average 16-year-old. As long as he adapts as his peers grow around him, don’t expect any drop off in production.
Jacob Trouba (uncommitted) — D — Trouba is an elite talent on the blue line for Team USA. He posted two assists at the Vlad Dzurilla to bring his international assist total to 12, good for the team lead. He can distribute the puck as well as anyone, but can deliver a big hit or score a big goal. Trouba is a good skater too, turning the corner quickly and skating his way out of trouble. He’s continuing to round out his game and will be heard from a lot next year leading up to the NHL Draft. Not to mention he goes to the net… um… hard.
Jared Rutledge (uncommitted) — G — Rutledge saw action against both Germany and Slovakia. He stopped 44-of-46 shots over the weekend and helped Team USA hold on for the one-goal win over Slovakia. He’s been outstanding for the U.S. internationally and has held his own incredibly well against the USHL. It appears Rutledge is continuing a trend of top goaltenders coming out of the National Team Development Program.
Collin Olson (uncomitted) — G — Olson made 23 saves in his lone appearance, earning the 5-1 win over Switzerland. He has yet to lose a game against international competition and has posted a sparkling 1.49 goals-against average in six international games. Olson came into the NTDP as a raw talent with tremendous size. Still in need of some polish, he looks to be finding the next level of his game and will be exciting to watch.
A few side notes:
Nicolas Kerdiles (Wisconsin) — Kerdiles was the only 1994-born player to earn a call-up to the U.S. National Under-18 Team for its tournament last week. The fact that the U17s didn’t miss a beat without one of its biggest forwards is further proof that this team’s strength is in its depth.
Brendan Silk (Boston College) — Silk missed the entire first half of the season while recovering from injury he suffered over the summer. He posted two assists in Slovakia, showing no signs of rustiness. The team should get a boost with him in the lineup.
Riley Barber (uncommitted) — Barber, who was the first overall pick in the 2010 USHL Futures Draft, joined the U.S. National Under-17 Team for this tournament. He’s having an outstanding rookie season in the USHL with Dubuque and contributed to Team USA this weekend with a goal and an assist.
Andrew Copp (uncommitted) — Copp has filled in at times at the NTDP this season in USHL play and earned a spot at the Vlad Dzurilla. Currently playing for Compuware Midget Major, Copp contributed a goal for Team USA at the Dzurilla. It’s not often you see a kid still playing Midget hockey earn a trip to Europe with the NTDP, so obviously they see something they like in Copp.
Editorial note: The recap of the 2011 Under-18 Five Nations Cup, in which the U.S. National Under-18 Team played, will be out tomorrow as part of the American Prospect Update.