Today, USA Hockey announced the roster for it’s U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team that will compete at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championship in Crimmitschau and Dresden, Germany, April 14-24. Team USA will look to capture an unprecedented third consecutive gold medal at the World Under-18s, with golds coming in Fargo in 2009 and Minsk, Belarus, in 2010. The U.S. will also look to keep alive it’s also unprecedented seven-year medal streak (Gold: 2010, 2009, 2006, 2005; Silver: 2007, 2004; Bronze: 2008).
The World Under-18 Championship is a truly exciting tournament. While it lacks the big budget and loads of coverage received by its older brother, the World Juniors, it is no less important in the grand scheme of things.
The World U18s is a great stage for draft-eligible players to give that last push on their draft stock. Additionally, it’s great preparation for the World Juniors as the tournament format is identical. On top of everything, it’s the earliest chance for a player to represent his country in a IIHF-sanctioned World Championship. The gold medal is on the line.
The IIHF World Under-18 Championship is a hugely important tournament, particularly for the U.S. and European countries. Canada is unable to field a team of it’s very best players due to the OHL, WHL and QMJHL playoffs, but still puts out a very competitive team. With the 10 best countries at the U18 level all under one roof, it offers a glimpse at how everyone stacks up with each other.
Coming up after the jump, a quick look at the importance of the tournament to USA Hockey, the roster, coaching staff, tournament format, the participating teams, and details on tournament coverage you’ll find right here on United States of Hockey.
Since the U.S. normally sends a team mostly of it’s players from the National Team Development Program, the tournament also serves as a measuring stick for how the program has developed it’s elite talent. With NTDP players having played against international competition for two years, the World Under-18 Championship is the final test, and it’s a big one.
For the players, particularly from the NTDP, the World U18s is the carrot dangling at the end of the stick. Many of the players competing for the U.S. will have put in two years of grueling work for the chance to play for a World Championship. So for two years, from the very beginning, the goal is to win the gold medal.
While the roster is usually made up primarily of NTDP players, the program has not been afraid to bring in players from “the outside” as their goal is to field the best possible team.
This year, however, USA Hockey made it’s roster entirely out of NTDP players. Every rostered player spent this season either with the U.S. National Under-18 or Under-17 Team.
Coming up later today, we’ll have a player-by-player breakdown of each of Team USA’s 13 forwards. Tomorrow, you’ll find a complete breakdown of the seven defensemen and two goaltenders. For now, here’s some general info on the roster.
The U.S., as I mentioned, went with an entire cast of NTDP players, which is actually quite rare. Before anyone cries favoritism and all of that, consider this:
This 1993 birth class, from which there are 18 players on this roster, has lost just once to international foes from it’s own birth year. That loss came in a pre-tournament exhibition match-up with Sweden. Other than that, this team ran the table at the 2009 U17 Four Nations, rode a perfect record to the 2010 World U17 Hockey Challenge title, won the 2010 U18 Four Nations Cup and skated through the 2011 U18 Five Nations Tournament unscathed. In many of its games against international opponents the 1993 class has dominated.
So if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, not every 1993 player will be returning, but that’s more because of the standout play from the young pups coming up behind them. It is common for the U.S. roster to include at least one under-ager. Getting the younger players in the mix helps give them experience that will prove invaluable for the following season.
The 1994 class is a very talented group. They have lots of depth and the high-end talent on the squad is elite. So the U18s called up four players from the 1994 class. Defensemen Seth Jones and Jacob Trouba, along with forwards Henrik Samuelsson and Nicolas Kerdiles are extremely talented youngsters. We’ll have more on this quartet in the player-by-player breakdowns coming soon.
In addition to having had international success as a group, the U.S. roster also includes two players who have played in this tournament before. Rocco Grimaldi and Tyler Biggs, both probable 2011 Draft first-rounders, were part of last year’s gold-medal winning squad.
Grimaldi tied for Team USA’s point lead at the tournament with 10 points (2g-10a), making him the highest scoring under-ager in the tournament. The diminutive forward scored the insurance goal for the U.S. (stick tap to NHLDraftVideo) as it pulled away from Sweden in the gold-medal game. So he was a pretty big part of the team’s success.
Biggs saw limited action, but was called upon to provide some energy and physicality when the U.S. squad needed it. He got added ice time in the gold-medal game against Sweden and performed well in a checking role. This year, Biggs will be a key player for the U.S. team, as he wears the “C” for this club.
In addition to Biggs and Grimaldi, the U.S. possesses two highly-rated draft-eligible goaltenders in John Gibson and Matt McNeely, and includes highly-touted draft prospect J.T. Miller. This tournament could be a big factor in just how high these players go come June’s NHL Entry Draft.
Along with the names you know, the U.S. team has a very versatile group of players to choose from, which we’ll cover in depth in the upcoming player breakdowns.
Rolston Leads Team USA for Fourth Time
The U.S. team will be led by head coach Ron Rolston, who will be taking part in his fourth World Under-18 Championship. In each of his three previous stints with the U18s, Rolston has guided the U.S. squad to the gold-medal game.
Rolston led the U.S. to gold in 2005 with the likes of Phil Kessel, Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson, Nathan Gerbe Peter Mueller, Ryan Stoa and Jack Skille. In 2009, Rolston put the U.S. back on top with a team that included Cam Fowler, Jeremy Morin, Jerry D’Amigo, and under-agers Jack Campbell and Jason Zucker. Team USA took silver in 2007 with Rolston at the helm and a roster that included James van Riemsdyk, Colin Wilson, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ian Cole and a young Jordan Schroeder.
In addition to his U18 experience, Rolston was the head coach for Team USA twice at the IIHF World Junior Championship, winning bronze with a star-studded roster in 2007. By the way, bronze at that time was kind of a big deal for the U.S. He was also behind the bench in 2009.
Lastly, Rolston has presided over two U.S. National Under-17 Teams at the World U17 Challenge, guiding Team USA to the championship game each time. The U.S. took second in 2008, but won the title in 2010 (with this group of 1993-born players).
Rolston’s staff includes top assistant Chadd Cassidy, who was on the bench for Team USA’s silver medal finish in 2007 and it’s gold medal in Fargo in 2009. Rolston and Cassidy have been a good team over the last few years at the NTDP and have had a lot of success together. Having worked with these guys for two years in Ann Arbor, they’re both pretty sharp men with a passion for the game and player development.
Joe Exter, USA Hockey’s national goaltending coach, is also serving as an assistant and will work with the goaltenders. Exter has done wonders with the U.S. goalies, particularly this year’s U18 tandem of John Gibson and Matt McNeely. Exter has been part of the last three World Under-18 Championships and each of the last to World Junior Championships.
Tim Taylor is also listed as an assistant coach. As the director of player personnel for the U.S. National Junior Team the last two years, Taylor has been a big part of USA Hockey’s recent run of international success. He was the head coach of the 1994 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, longtime bench boss at Yale, and even served as an assistant coach for two years at the NTDP. This will be his fourth World U18 Championship. His experience and knowledge of the game are a big help to any staff.
Matt Curley rounds out USA Hockey’s coaching staff. He’ll handle most of the video duties for the U.S. after spending this season as an intern coach at the NTDP. Curley was a four-year defenseman at Clarkson University and played two seasons of pro hockey, most recently with the Reading Royals in 2008-09.
If you’re not familiar with the IIHF World Under-18 Championship, allow me to inform you. First of all, it is the exact same format as the IIHF World Junior Championship:
– Two groups of five teams compete in a preliminary round, with each team playing it’s group opponents once.
– W= 3 pts, OTW = 2 pts, OTL = 1 pt, L = 0 pts
– The top three teams in each pool at the end of the preliminary round advance, with the first-place teams earning a bye to the semi-finals. The 2nd place team of Group A will play the 3rd place team from Group B, and vice versa.
– The bottom two in each pool play in the relegation round. The two teams with the worst record get relegated.
For the more comprehensive, official format, click here.
I’ll have a more detailed look at this a little later, but for now here are the groups:
Group A: USA, Russia, Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany
Group B: Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Canada, Norway
For a complete tournament schedule, click here.
Make sure to check back a little later this afternoon for the player-by-player breakdown of Team USA’s forwards, complete with a brief scouting report, season stats, CSS mid-term rankings, hometowns and college commitments for each player.