The IIHF World Men’s Championship is often overlooked in North America. With the NHL playoffs in full swing, it’s not exactly on the average hockey fan’s radar. However, if you like international hockey, it’s certainly worth keeping tabs on.
This year, it’s easier than ever to track Team USA’s progress, as VERSUS will carry each of the six U.S. games, the semifinal round and the gold-medal game. Game times won’t exactly be conducive to a large audience, as the tournament is taking place in Slovakia, six hours ahead of EDT. Regardless, the fact that the tournament is getting coverage on the same network that carries the National Hockey League is a step in the right direction.
In addition to lack of coverage in the past, there has been a lack of medals for Team USA. The majority of human beings on planet Earth were not born the last time the U.S. earned gold.
Let’s put it this way, King Kong… the original King Kong, was one of the top movies the year Team USA won its last gold. Some nice folks in San Francisco were breaking ground on something that would come to be known the Golden Gate Bridge. My maternal grandmother was three years old. Are you getting that it’s been a while? The year was 1933, for those of you still with me.
For whatever reason, the World Men’s Championship hasn’t been a strong event for U.S. teams. The last medal overall was bronze in 2004.
This year may not be a lot different from years past. The smart money is not going to be on Team USA to win the tournament, or even medal really. However, the construction of this team looks to have an eye towards the future and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There are a lot of young up-and-coming stars, particularly on the U.S. blue line, who may be in the mix for the 2014 Olympics. Additionally, gaining valuable experience at the World Championship this year, could lead to success in future campaigns.
Coming up after the jump, a quick look at Team USA’s roster.
Team USA will go with Ty Conklin, Al Montoya and Jack Campbell, as it’s goaltending trio. The young Campbell will likely serve as the third goaltender and use this tournament as a bit more of a learning experience.
Conklin is a bit of a USA veteran. He was between the pipes for Team USA’s bronze-medal campaign in 2004 and was named the tournament’s best goaltender by the directorate. He’s been a part of three world championships, a World Cup of Hockey (2004) and the less heralded Deutschland Cup.
Al Montoya was the goaltender for the first-ever gold medal for the U.S. National Junior Team in 2004. Since then, he’s had an up and down career. Still, he had a strong finish to his season with the New York Islanders and played in the 2009 IIHF World Championship.
Over the last decade, the U.S. has produced an incredibly deep group of defensemen. That’s why, looking at this roster, it appears Team USA’s strength will be it’s blue line.
Jack Johnson, who never seems to say no, will be back to represent the U.S. for the ninth time. He’s played in two World U18s, two World Juniors, three World Championships and was part of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team. His willingness to represent his country sure makes him a great guy to have on the team. You know he’ll play for the jersey. He’s the only 2010 Olympian on the roster for the second consecutive year.
The U.S. also has a pair of young defensemen that should be in the mix for the 2014 Olympics in Kevin Shattenkirk and Cam Fowler. These two may end up competing for a spot down the road, but having them on the backend for this tournament gives Team USA a nice boost.
Additionally, the U.S. added a solid young defenseman in Ryan McDonagh, who has played in a World Juniors and World Under-18 Championship. He had a pretty good rookie season with the Rangers and will be another guy the U.S. should be able to rely on, on the blue line.
Mike Komisarek and Mark Stuart give Team USA a physical component to the blue line as well as more of a veteran presence. Komisarek was initially named to the 2010 Olympic team, but had to pull out due to injury. He’s had a long history with USA Hockey, so having him with this group helps a lot.
Stuart has been named captain for this squad. He was in the same role for Team USA for it’s first ever golds at both the World Under-18s (2002) and World Juniors (2004). He’s been a warrior for USA Hockey in the past, and I’d assume he’s in the same role for this edition of the U.S. Men’s National Team.
The U.S. then gets a couple of new guys in the mix in Mark Fayne and Clay Wilson. Those two will be wearing the USA crest for the first time and should be there to provide good depth for the U.S. squad.
Jake Gardiner is coming off a successful campaign with the University of Wisconsin, that led him to signing his first pro contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. A member of the 2010 World Junior gold-medal team, Gardiner will get a chance to learn with the professionals.
To be completely honest, there isn’t much to write home about among this forward group. However, USA Hockey keenly went with a few young guys that may be available to them down the road.
Andy Miele won the Hobey Baker this year and will represent the U.S. for the first time. He also got a game with Phoenix earlier this year. Getting him some more experience will please the Coyotes. It is yet to be seen what kind of pro Miele will develop into, but it’s nice to have a guy with his speed and skill set on the club.
Additionally, the U.S. has a pair of current collegians in Boston College’s Chris Krieder (who played for the Men’s senior team last year) and Wisconsin’s Craig Smith. The pair of sophomores will give Team USA good depth and again get a few young guys early experience. Kreider has become a USA Hockey regular since his brilliant performance at the 2010 World Juniors, while Smith is a first-timer.
Derek Stepan was the captain of the 2010 U.S. National Junior Team that won gold and had a great rookie season. I have a feeling Stepan will be a guy USA Hockey always calls, assuming he’s available. Lucky for Team USA, the Rangers got bounced by Washington and Stepan was available and is arguably one of the more notable forwards on the U.S. team.
The U.S. can also be happy to have a former 20-goal scorer in Blake Wheeler. The big forward hasn’t found the consistency at the NHL level, but getting him on this team helps. He played at the 2006 World Juniors, so he’s got some international experience. He will be a big part of anything Team USA does offensively.
Nick Palmieri is a part of this youth movement on Team USA, and will be a national team rookie. He played 43 games with New Jersey and is starting to find his NHL legs. This could be a good tournament for him to gain a little more experience against top competition in preparation for what he hopes to be a full-time gig in New Jersey.
Yan Stastny spent the last season in the KHL, but has always answered the call if the U.S. needed him. I’m sure Team USA would have liked to see another Stastny on the roster, but Yan is actually a pretty solid international player. He’s been to two World Championships, and will be one of the more experienced forwards for this team.
Mike Brown brings an edge to this forward group, which is good. You can’t fight in international hockey, but there’s no rule against getting under the other team’s skin. He might not put up a lot of points, but he’ll be solid in the corners and bring the physical game.
Chris Porter is another guy who plays more of a hard-nosed style. The former North Dakota star will have to bring an element of grind to this U.S. team. He’s had some very productive seasons in the AHL, so there’s no reason he can’t contribute offensively for this U.S. squad.
Ryan Shannon had three goals for Team USA in his only World Championship tournament. He’s also coming off of a career year with Ottawa and might bring some stability to the forward group.
Tim Stapleton has struggled to earn a full-time NHL roster spot, but he’s done very well in the AHL and was a standout for the University of Minnesota Duluth in the not so distant past. Having played two years in Finland, Stapleton is familiar with the European style. The international game could benefit him a little bit and perhaps bring out some of that offensive ability he’s put on display in the A.
Jack Skille is a guy I will be keeping a close eye on in this tournament. After being drafted seventh overall in the 2005 draft, he’s failed to live up to expectations. However, he has previous international experience and his last stint at the World Juniors was a good one, when he tallied six points in seven games. He plays a high-energy style, which could benefit him against the European clubs. I’d like to see a bit of a breakout from Skille in Slovakia.
Paul Gaustad was the final addition for the U.S. Men’s National Team. It was a big pick up for Team USA. Getting a defensive-minded, hard-nosed veteran will serve the U.S. well. He’s already been named an alternate captain and should be a big leader for this group of younger forwards.
The U.S. team may not inspire much confidence, but at the very least, USA Hockey has made an effort to put together a competitive team. Additionally, the experience gained by the younger guys on the roster could go a long way in the future.
Obviously, this is a tournament the U.S. would like to have more success at. There were probably a lot of players that were either injured or exhausted that turned down USA Hockey for a spot. So the big thing is that this is a team full of guys that want to be there and will compete hard, day in and day out. How that commitment carries them in the tournament remains to be seen. We’ll know soon.
The U.S. kicks things off against Austria Saturday at 10:15 a.m. EDT, live on VERSUS.
USAHockey.com appears to have this thing covered from wall-to-wall. So it’s world championship page should be a frequent stop for you if you’re planning on following the tournament closely.
I’ll be tracking the tournament closely throughout the next few weeks on United States of Hockey. So stay tuned for game recaps and other tournament thoughts throughout the World Championship.