American Prospect Update: World Junior A Challenge Preview

It’s November, which means we’re nearing the International Ice Hockey Federation’s first international break. Each year, the IIHF has windows in which European clubs take time off to allow their players to compete in various international tournaments including the World Championship events. The second week of November is designated as one of those breaks.

USA Hockey will be sending teams to compete in the Women’s Four Nations Cup, Men’s Under-17 Four Nations Cup, Deutschland Cup (featuring American players skating in European professional leagues), and also two tournaments featuring players eligible for the 2012 NHL Entry draft. Those tournaments are the 2011 Under-18 Four Nations Cup, in Monthey, Switzerland, and the 2011 World Junior A Challenge in Langley B.C.

Today’s American Prospect Update will focus on the U.S. Junior Select Team (roster) heading to take on top players from Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic and a pair of Canadian regional teams made up of top Junior A players at the World Junior A Challenge. The tournament kicks off Nov. 7 and ends on Nov. 13.

Coming up after the jump, a brief look at the World Junior A Challenge format, some news and notes, and a detailed look at each of Team USA’s draft-eligible players.

Team USA, which is typically made up of USHL players, is the three-time defending champion at the World Junior A Challenge. The tournament started in 2006, with Canada-West winning the first two events.

The tournament format features two round-robin games, followed by a quarterfinal, semifinal and medal rounds. The first place team from each of the two groups at the end of round-robin play receives a bye to the semis, while the remaining teams slug it out in the quarterfinals.

Team USA is part of Group A, which includes Canada-West and Sweden. Expect it to be a very competitive bracket.

Each of the European teams will be entering the tournament with rosters primarily made up of 1994-born skaters, including a few attractive draft-eligibles. So it should be a pretty exciting tournament to follow. You can view their rosters here.

Here’s a brief look at a few of Team USA’s players that have already heard their names called at the draft.

Mario Lucia, the Minnesota Wild second-round pick and son of University of Minnesota Head coach Don Lucia, is likely the headliner of the forward group. He’s one of two players from the BCHL to make the U.S. club (Mike Reilly is the other).

Lucia has lit up the BCHL, and sits second in the league with 29 points in just 14 games for the Penticton Vees. He could be a focal point of Team USA’s offense with his great size and developing skill.

USHLers Tony Cameranesi (Lucia’s former Wayzata teammate), Sean Kuraly and Alex Broadhurst are also 2011 NHL Draftees that are part of this U.S. outfit.

On the back-end, Andy Welinski, Anaheim’s third-round pick in the 2011 Draft, is the only previously drafted player on the blue line for Team USA. He has already posted five goals on the young USHL season for the Green Bay Gamblers. Welinski had six all of last season. He’s also put up a plus-4 rating on one of the USHL’s better clubs.

Between the pipes, Zane Gothberg was a late addition to Team USA. The Fargo netminder was a sixth-round pick for the Boston Bruins in 2010. He was part of last year’s championship team, but was left off in favor of Dubuque’s Clark Cup netminder Matt Morris. After Morris went down with injury Gothberg got the call and will play alongside Green Bay tender Ryan McKay.

Now, for some of the top draft eligibles on the U.S. Junior Select Team Roster:

Of the seven defensemen on the U.S. roster, only two are first-year draft eligibles. Jordan Schmaltz, the big defenseman from the Sioux City Musketeers, has been covered at length on this blog and will likely be one of the top Americans selected in Pittsburgh come June. He brings a variety of skills Team USA will need, from quarterbacking a power play, to jumping into rushes, to getting the puck up to the many skilled forwards on this squad.

Brian Cooper, of the Fargo Force, is the other draft-eligible blueliner. Cooper raised plenty of eyebrows (in a good way) when he was included on the roster for the National Junior Evaluation Camp in August. The undersized defenseman can skate like the wind and has good offensive instincts, but his draft stock will probably endure a roller coaster ride this season. Cooper posted 33 points a season ago on a gifted Fargo team, but has struggled to get the offense going so far this year, with just two assists through the Force’s first 10 games. He’s also a minus-1. At his size, he has to produce to earn those long looks from scouts. Cooper has been in this tournament before and should be a veteran presence on the back end. Expect him to thrive in this setting.

There’s a lot of intriguing draft-eligible prospects up front for Team USA. The forward group should provide plenty of production.

Second-year eligible Riley Bourbonnais could be a big contributor for this team. The Cedar Rapids winger is very good on the power play and creates loads of scoring chances with his patience and poise with the puck. He also has a solid frame which should bode well against some of the younger players on the Euro teams.

Austin Cangelosi has been tearing up the USHL in his rookie season with the Youngstown Phantoms. With good speed and skill, he’s been finishing a lot of his chances with eight goals on 17 shots. There are plenty of guys who can set the table. It will be up to Cangelosi to make the most of those opportunities.

Waterloo Black Hawks forward Vince Hinostroza raised his profile at the Ivan Hlinka with Team USA. His great on-ice work ethic allows him to get chances in tight and play in all situations. He’s looking like a really solid mid-range draft pick that could end up giving whoever selects him some great value. There’s a lot to like about Hinostroza’s still-developing game.

Hinostroza’s Waterloo teammate A.J. Michaelson is off to a surprisingly slow start in this USHL season with just two points in 10 games after an impressive effort in the preseason. With good size and tremendous skating ability, this could be Michaelson’s official coming out party. He has a great game for the international style of play and this could be a big confidence booster. Michaelson has a chance to rescue his draft stock with a good showing.

Ray Pigozzi has been a point-per-game player on an average Des Moines Buccaneers squad this year. He has a decent frame and could get a chance to showcase himself a bit more with a lot more talent surrounding him. Regg Simon, his current head coach with Des Moines is also guiding Team USA. Simon obviously knows Pigozzi and that could help earn the 6-foot forward some more ice.

Austyn Young of the Sioux Falls Stampede has posted six points in his first seven games. He had a pretty solid rookie campaign in 2010-11 in the USHL with 32 points as a 16-year-old in a tough league. He’s another guy that can benefit by playing with a few natural goal scorers to get that point production up. Should be a very good opportunity for Young to step out a bit.

Finally, a look into the future with 1995-born defenseman Ian McCoshen. The Waterloo Black Hawks blueliner is Team USA’s lone “under-ager” and is a pretty darn good player. At 6-3, 205, he’s Team USA’s biggest defenseman and plays a very mature, stay-at-home game. The 1995-birth year is incredibly deep on the blue line and McCoshen is undoubtedly one of the best in the bunch. This should be a very good opportunity for the young defenseman to make a big impression on the international stage.

This is a very intriguing roster, with a lot of depth, particularly up front. The U.S. has had success at the tournament and should come in with confidence. There is also pressure of keeping the streak alive, trying to capture a fourth consecutive title. Will this team live up to that responsibility? We’ll find out next week.

Coming up next Wednesday on the American Prospect Update, a preview of the Under-18 Four Nations Cup in Monthey, Switzerland, which begins Nov. 9 and features the U.S. National Under-18 Team from the National Team Development Program.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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