As the World Junior Championship gains popularity in the United States, it’s only natural for you newcomers to have plenty of questions. This post will try and answer those frequently asked questions about the USA camp and the selection process. It’ll be a good refresher course for those of you who are seasoned WJC vets, too.
As mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is only the third year of the pre-tournament camp in its current format. There will be tough decisions to be made and it is likely the Team USA staff will use all of the time it possibly can between when the players arrive later tonight and when USA Hockey plans to announce the roster (Dec. 22).
After the jump, I’ll explain a little bit how the selection process goes, among other frequent camp-related questions…
What is the camp format?
Essentially the camp is a series of practices and three exhibition games against international opponents. Two of those games will occur before cuts are made, with Team USA’s final roster competing in the final exhibition.
The schedule is as follows for the camp:
Players arrive in Camrose tonight, and will likely gather for a meeting of some kind as the stage is set for what will be expected of them and what they’ll need to accomplish to make the team.
Here’s Team USA’s official practice and game schedule via USAHockey.com:
|Sat., Dec. 17||Practice||Camrose||10 – 11:30 a.m.|
|Practice||Camrose||5 – 6 p.m.|
|Sun., Dec. 18||Practice||Camrose||10 – 11:30 a.m.|
|Practice||Camrose||5 – 6 p.m.|
|Mon., Dec. 19||Practice||Camrose||11 a.m. – 1 p.m.|
|Tues., Dec. 20||Practice||Camrose||10 – 11:30 a.m.|
|Game vs. Russia||Red Deer||7 p.m.|
|Wed., Dec. 21||Practice||Camrose||11 – 11:45 a.m.|
|Game vs. Switzerland||Camrose||7:30 p.m.|
|Thurs., Dec. 22||Practice||Camrose||11 a.m. – 1 p.m.|
|Fri., Dec. 23||Practice||Camrose||10 – 11 a.m.|
|Game vs. Slovakia||Three Hills||7 p.m.|
How does the evaluation process work?
All, but five players on the U.S. National Junior Team’s preliminary roster participated in the National Junior Evaluation Camp in August. Obviously, all 29 have been viewed multiple times throughout the scouting process. The coaches and player personnel people know what these players can do on the ice.
The evaluation process in this setting begins upon the players’ arrival. It’s important to know what these guys are like off the ice and how they all fit together. Blais mentioned that the 2010 gold medal team was as good a group off the ice as it was on and that it played a big role in Team USA’s success at that tournament. Players at this camp don’t need to be best friends, but each player will have to prove somewhat selfless and of a team-first mindset.
While each player has been viewed many times prior to the camp, getting them all on the same ice surface will help flesh things out a bit more. If a couple of players are close to each other in ability or playing style, it will become clearer which one fits better with the rest of the group when they’re all together.
The coaches and player personnel people can gauge which players can keep up and which ones are struggling pretty quick.
Every practice will matter when a roster of 29 needs to be cut down to 22 in five days, but as you can imagine, the two pre-cut exhibition games will be held in a very high regard.
While the exhibition games are nice to win, as it is USA against an international foe, those games are far more important for evaluation purposes.
The U.S. is kind of lucky in some way that it will play Russia in the first exhibition. The Russians are the defending gold medalists and should be the most skilled team in the tournament. The Russians also have a way of exploiting weaknesses in an opponent that other teams can’t often accomplish. The U.S. should have a good idea who belongs and who doesn’t after that contest.
In the second exhibition match-up, Team USA plays Switzerland, which is the World Junior equivalent of a mid-major. They’re not as good as the elites, but have a strong enough team to be competitive and make for a very tough game.
Both pre-tournament, pre-cut games are going to tell Dean Blais a lot about his group. In these games, there is going to be a lot of pressure on the bubble players to play flawless hockey and bring their very best.
At the end of each day, the staff will likely convene and chat about what they each saw. It’s good to have a staff the size of the Junior team’s. There’s a lot of smart people in that room that might have picked up something the others hadn’t.
At the end of the day, the brunt of the decision is going to have to fall on Dean Blais as he’ll have to decide which players he is most comfortable with. He’ll have plenty of support from his staff and scouts, but Blais is going to be the guy who makes the final judgment.
Why’s the camp in Camrose? Why not in a good ole American town?
Well, the biggest reason? Everyone else is going to be in Alberta. It is important to be able to schedule exhibitions against international opponents to give the U.S. players a taste of what they’ll experience in the tournament. For the majority of the roster, it’ll be their first World Junior experience.
Secondly, it also gives the players a chance to get comfortable with their surroundings. It’s not like going to Europe where there’s a big time difference, but being in the area of the tournament allows players to get into that mindset. The U.S. is going to be in hostile territory, so you might as well immerse the players in it right off the bat.
Have the players noticed more people are paying attention to the WJC in the U.S.?
Based on my conversations with players from last year’s team and a few who will be headed back this year, the answer is yes. They know the tournament is growing in popularity and that there’s a little added pressure to win.
It probably doesn’t affect them too much, as there’s still not a vast knowledge of the WJC in the States. That said, it’s come a long way since the days when the only people who knew about the tournament was the coach of the team, the players and their friends and family (might be a slight exaggeration, but really, it’s only a slight one).
The players are also aware of what winning the tournament can do for its exposure in the United States. After John Carlson’s thrilling OT game winner in 2010, people got intrigued. They said, “Hey! This thing looks fun! Let’s watch it next year.” And they did. Now the U.S. has to go back and recapture some of that enthusiasm from the hockey-loving public in America.
I figured it would be a good idea to send you into the weekend with a list of essential follows for the 2012 World Junior Championship from camp and beyond. I’m probably missing a bunch of other great follows, but here are some of my favorites for this tournament…
Mike Morreale of NHL.com
Adam Kimelman of NHL.com
Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News
Dean Millard and Guy Flaming of The Pipeline Show
Sunaya Sapurji of Y!Sports Canada
Neate Sager of Y!Sports Canada
Patrick King of Rogers Sportsnet
Chris Dilks of Western College Hockey Blog
Ryan Lambert of Puck Daddy and The Sleeping Giant
Chemmy of PPP and The Sleeping Giant
Kirk Luedeke of New England Hockey Journal/Red Line Report
Bruce Peter of Puck Worlds
Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus/ESPN.com
Just this morning, it was reported that Charlie Coyle has left the Boston University hockey program. The big centerman is expected to be in Camrose, Alberta tonight to join Team USA for camp.
Apparently academic issues have led Coyle to leave school.
UPDATE: 12/16 — 1:41 p.m. CST: The Pipeline Show has the latest on Coyle:
And also this:
While it is a distraction for Coyle, it is unlikely to affect his candidacy for Team USA. Coyle was Team USA’s best forward at the 2011 World Junior Championship and is expected to play a featured role on this year’s team.
This has happened a few times before, when a player switches teams just prior to the World Junior Championship. Most notably, it occurred in 2008, when Kyle Okposo left the University of Minnesota to sign a pro contract with the New York Islanders.
It’s not ideal to have a pretty significant event in a young player’s life crop up right before a big tournament like this when you want everybody locked in. Coyle is a competitor, so it’s likely this won’t be much of an issue.
Check back Monday for an update from the first two days of camp and a brief preview of the exhibition contest between Team USA and Team Russia. Should be a good test for both clubs.