There may be two games left to play Saturday, but first place has already been decided at the 2011 Under-17 Five Nations Tournament. The U.S. beat Slovakia, 6-4, in an exciting contest Friday night to clinch the tourney title. Team USA has earned nine of a possible nine points in the standings through three games, leaving the rest of the field behind.
The U.S. will play Switzerland tonight in an effort to remain undefeated in the tournament, which Bob Corkum said was a goal for his team coming into the tournament. They may already be champs, but the work is not done. You can tune into that game on FASTHockey at 7 p.m. EDT.
Coming up after the jump, a look at the standouts of the tournament so far for Team USA.
It’s hard to remember these guys are only 16 and that they are still essentially in the preseason. The pace of this tournament has been surprisingly great. All of the European teams have played tough, but the U.S. squad has been clearly heads above in the Bigger, Faster and Stronger departments.
Now, because they are 16, there’s so much development ahead of these players, so some of their deficiencies could even be gone by the end of the season. Every player on the U.S. team has room to grow and get better, so it’s hard to harp on too many little things as they’ll hopefully be able to work that out before they hit the next phase of their career.
Here’s a look at the standouts from last night.
Danny Vanderwiel — This is an easy one, as Vanderwiel had a hat trick in Friday night’s contest. It wasn’t just that he scored, but it was where he was scoring from. All of his goals were created by him standing on the doorstep and staying in front of the net no matter what. Each goal came from in tight. Additionally, Vanderwiel, who is not the biggest kid out there, brought the wood. His first goal was completely created by his causing a turnover with a big hit on a Slovakian defenseman, then getting the puck in the slot and slamming it home. Despite his lack of size and strength, he goes to the hard areas. He’s not afraid to get dirty. Additionally, Vanderwiel possesses pretty great speed and acceleration.
Connor Clifton — There are a whole bunch of offensive-minded defenseman on this U.S. team and Clifton is no different. The difference is that Clifton also takes great pride in his defensive game. The big D man, has great strength and skates well which allows him to be physical in all areas. That’s what stood out Saturday. He could make plays, but was pretty sound in his own end. He saw the ice a bunch and made his presence known on just about every shift with either a smart play, a big hit, or putting his skating on display.
Shane Eiserman — At the beginning of the tournament, it looked like Eiserman was going to be a big offensive presence for the U.S. The points have materialized as expected, but the big forward has shown off a fantastic two-way game. He’s been great on the penalty kill for the U.S. and is always skating hard on the back check. He has good size and skates wonderfully. Eiserman scored a goal against the Slovaks, but did so much more than that. There are some offensive tools there. He’ll need a little time to work on putting everything together all at once, but he has some big potential.
Vinni Lettieri — With a goal last night, Lettieri was rewarded for playing a hard-nosed, physical game. Like Vanderwiel, he’s not the thickest guy out there, but he knows how to use his body and has timed his hits extremely well. He’s another guy that skates well and has a nice shot. Last night, his goal came off of his own rebound and drove hard to the net. He hasn’t shown consistency on every shift, but that’s something that can be worked out as he matures as a player. He had a fantastic game against Slovakia.
Andrew Oglevie — Oglevie has quietly put up four assists in tournament play. He’s just been a steady player, providing some pressure offensively, and moving the puck well through neutral ice. He seems to play hard every shift, as it’s been common to call his name out in the broadcasts every time he’s on the ice. He always seems to find his way around the puck.
Coming up next week, we’ll have a full recap of the Under-17 Five Nations Tournament, with some quick-hitter scouting reports on each player.
In other news: The U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp wraps up Saturday after the U.S. takes on Sweden at 1 p.m. EDT. I’m hoping to get in touch with some of the camp staff for some updates from them, but will also have thoughts of my own posted next week right here on USofH.
Hard to believe this busy week in American hockey is about to come to an end. It’s been fun while it’s lasted. Good thing the season isn’t too far away.