After two games at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Men’s Championship, we’ve already learned a lot about this U.S. Men’s National Team.
A 5-1 win over Austria on Saturday and a 4-2 comeback win against Norway Monday morning means the U.S. has already advanced to the qualification round. So the memory of last year’s abysmal 13th place finish has been erased by a team of Americans that look pretty determined.
Coming up after the jump, a look at Team USA so far and some of the players making waves in Slovakia.
As I mentioned in my preview, this edition of the U.S. Men’s National Team went with a bunch of young players. Some Americans in the NHL said no or were too injured to compete, so Jim Johannson and his army of NHL GMs went young. It’s paying off.
The U.S. cruised in its game against Austria, but it was gut-check time against Norway. Trailing 2-0 going into the third period, the U.S. scored four unanswered goals.
Nick Palmieri, 21, scored twice, including the game-winning goal on the power play. Jack Skille, 23, notched the game-tying goal and Craig Smith, 21, scored the insurance goal.
Sometimes younger means hungrier. Palmieri and Smith are both wearing the USA crest for the first time in their young careers. Smith is still in college. Palmieri is fresh off his rookie season.
However, in addition to the young pups, Team USA brought in plenty of older players who have been there before and are there to lead the way. Toronto Maple Leafs Mike Komisarek and Mike Brown bring that grit, and brought it big time against Norway. Mark Stuart took a big hit in the game, but got back up and showed his team some of his trademark toughness and sacrifice. Jack Johnson, who isn’t old, but is the most experienced of Team USA’s players, has led the U.S. just by showing up and wanting to be there.
So while this team certainly lacks star power, it’s not short on heart. In this tournament, will can beat skill. Should the U.S. continue this inspired play, it could be a threat to sneak into medal contention, which was thought to be impossible by many, including me.
Most of you might guffaw at my last statement considering the U.S. beat Austria and Norway. Not exactly world powers, but for this U.S. team, there won’t be an easy game on the schedule. Especially after last year’s event, Team USA should be happy with any win.
Wednesday’s contest against Sweden should prove to be its greatest test and may give us the best idea of what this team is really all about. Despite the fact that the U.S. has already solidified itself in the qualification round, Sweden poses a serious challenge. A win over the Tre Kronar, and the U.S. continues its positive momentum throughout the tournament.
Team USA’s players were told not to address the Osama bin Laden topic. While I think we’re all a little disappointed that the players couldn’t fill us in on how they felt, it is certainly the right move from a PR standpoint. More importantly, its the right move from a safety standpoint.
With our players overseas and a higher threat level, it is important to take all precautions in that instance. I’m sure the players feel no differently than the rest of their fellow Americans, but while abroad should keep their opinions to themselves and focus on hockey.
Chris Kreider had another strong effort in Team USA’s second game. His speed has made him a constant threat for the U.S. offensively. I still find it hard to believe he’ll return to BC for his junior season, but until we hear otherwise, that’s his plan.
Kreider is showing the ability to play at a high level against older, stronger opponents. I’m sure the New York Rangers are keeping a close eye on this tournament and wouldn’t be opposed to making another pitch upon its conclusion.
To me, the kid is ready, but if he wants to go back to school, I wouldn’t hold it against him. Kevin Shattenkirk, despite everyone saying he should leave school, stuck around for his junior year and was ready to make an impact at the AHL level. He didn’t last in the AHL long, as Colorado called him up. Another year to round out his game, and be the go-to guy on his team won’t hurt Kreider’s development a bit.
Craig Smith had a big gaffe that led to Norway’s goal, but aside from that looked pretty solid. I’ve been impressed with Smith’s skill level and nose for the net. Playing with former Badger teammate Derek Stepan appears to be working.
The line of Stepan, Smith and Blake Wheeler has looked liked a constant threat on the ice. Always getting pucks to the net and creating quality scoring chances.
Smith is another guy who could probably make the jump to the pros now, but has stated his intention to return to Wisconsin for his junior season. The Nashville Predators waited patiently for Smith’s former teammate Blake Geoffrion, so I wouldn’t expect Smith’s situation to be much different. Still, Smith has been the surprise of the tournament so far, for me.
We knew the defense would be a strong suit for Team USA, and so far, it has been. We knew what to expect from Jack Johnson, Mike Komisarek and Mark Stuart, all seasoned veterans.
However, the play out of young guys like Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonough is particularly encouraging. Each have seen plenty of ice and have contributed already.
Fowler, in particular, looks like he could be a force for years to come in a USA jersey. Shattenkirk has been impressive on both ends of the ice and has filled his role wonderfully. McDonough had some struggles against Norway, but looks like he can be a contributor throughout the tournament. It appeared he got his legs more as the game went on.
Paul Gaustad gives the U.S. an added boost on draws. One of the best faceoff men in the NHL is going to take a lot for Team USA in all situations. His big body and gritty play also offer some nice features for the U.S. He looked like he adjusted well to the team after just arriving yesterday.
Al Montoya has been really solid between the pipes through two games. The first goal against Norway was a bit of a softy, but he made big saves late in the game to keep Norway from building any momentum beyond the first period.
Goaltending was looking to be a question mark for the U.S. with Montoya and Ty Conklin looking like they’d bear the brunt of the load. However, Montoya has done his job. He’ll need to keep it up throughout the tournament as the U.S. runs into more offensively gifted teams as it moves on.
USA Hockey has a great blog going for this tournament. Similar to its World Junior Championship coverage, USA Hockey’s national team blog gives you more of that insider info and allows you to get better looks at Team USA.
Chris Johnston of the Canadian Press is covering the tournament. If you don’t follow him on Twitter already, you should. He’s a great follow for hockey fans anyway, as he also covers the NHL.
Bruce Peter, over at Puck Worlds, is your go-to source for all things international hockey. He’s blogging extensively about the World Championship. Based on his coverage so far, Puck Worlds should be a daily stop for you if you’re following this tournament with any amount of interest.
Additionally, IIHF.com is your best resource for stats, schedules and general news regarding the World Championship. Just in case you didn’t know.
We’ll continue to track Team USA’s progress throughout the World Men’s Championship right here on United States of Hockey. Make sure to check back often for updates and analysis.