Looking back at the 2012 World Junior Championship, the U.S. National Junior Team and all of its faults, one has to feel that its biggest opportunity to have made an impact in the tournament rested with the group of forwards. Against Latvia and Denamark, Team USA scored a combined 23 goals. Against Finland, the Czech Republic, Canada and Switzerland, Team USA scored a combined seven goals.
When you look up and down the forward roster, you’ll see five first-round draft picks, three of the WCHA’s top scorers, a player with two games NHL experience, one of the WHL’s most productive wingers over the last three years and many more.
Seven goals in four games against what would be considered upper-echelon opponents was not going to get it done.
In the two games in which Team USA’s fate was sealed, forwards put up many shots, 93 in total, but few of enough quality to beat a pair of elite goaltenders. In those two crucial games, Team USA faced off against a pair of guys in Sami Aittokallio of Finland and Petr Mrazek of the Czech Republic (Mrazek ended up being named the directorate award winner for the tournament’s best goaltender). When you go up against two of the best, you have to find a way to be better. The U.S. didn’t.
The lack of a sustained forecheck and struggles to gain a presence in front of the opposing team’s net will be the big takeaways from this forward group. With all that potential and all that pedigree, somehow, Team USA couldn’t get the offense clicking.
Coming up after the jump, a look at each of Team USA’s 13 forwards.
Josh Archibald — Archibald’s selection to the team was a surprise. Many felt it was bias from Dean Blais to take a player from his own team and put him on the roster. Despite the fact that Archibald was never much of a factor for Team USA, he brought the tools that Blais wanted on this team. Archibald showed that he’s a gifted skater and is unafraid of the physical game. I won’t second guess the selection, because hindsight is 20/20 and to be honest, I felt Archibald did enough to earn a spot in camp. While he has a pair of tremendous tools, there wasn’t much else to get overly excited about. He’s only a year removed from high school hockey, so there’s plenty development ahead for Archibald.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 0-2–2, 6 PIM
Bill Arnold — Arnold was named one of Team USA’s three best players in the tournament, and in my mind was the most consistent forward for the U.S. He played hard, did alright in the faceoff circle and was a point-per-game player on a team that struggled offensively (save for the Latvia/Denmark games, of course). Arnold was most often found in a third-line role for Team USA, and within the context of that role performed admirably. He got more ice time as the tournament wore on, played on the power play and penalty kill and offered Dean Blais a bit of versatility. He proved he’s a legitimate prospect in the process.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 3-3–6, 4 PIM
Nick Bjugstad — After coming into camp injured, Bjugstad may have never been 100 percent healthy throughout the tournament. At least it looked that way. The whole first half of the college season, Bjugstad was dominant. He was scoring with frequency in every game, regardless of opponent, at Minnesota. That never materialized at the World Juniors. He scored four goals, but all four came against Latvia (3) and Denmark (1). He’s a big body, a tremendous skater and good offensive player, but in the times that mattered most, like many of Team USA’s big guns, Bjugstad didn’t deliver.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 4-2–6, 0 PIM
Connor Brickley — Getting sliced on his leg by a skate blade against Denmark essentially derailed Brickley’s tournament. He sat out the game against Finland and both relegation-round games. Because of the injury, it’s impossible to evaluate Brickely’s performance. All we can do is wonder what could have been. Brickley’s physical, gritty style would have been a huge help against Finland, and with limited action against the Czechs, there was not much the forward could do to prevent the U.S. from heading to the relegation round. Very unfortunate circumstances for both Brickley and Team USA.
Final Stat Line: 3 GP, 0-0–0, 0 PIM
Charlie Coyle — A hat trick in the tournament’s opening game against Denmark made it appear like Coyle was poised for another solid showing at the World Junior Championship, however a flu bug pretty much rendered him a non factor against the Czechs. Him not being at full speed really hurt the U.S. He had a nice goal against Canada, but didn’t factor in much in either of the relegation round games. Coyle’s illness will be looked at as one of those things that just didn’t go Team USA’s way. Tough to have a first rounder like Coyle hobbled, with the other injuries the U.S. was dealing with.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 4-1–5, 2 PIM
Austin Czarnik — Czarnik was also named one of Team USA’s three best players of the tournament. It’s likely because he played the same way the entire time. Despite a few defensive lapses in the Finland game, any line Czarnik was on typically brought energy or some kind of spark to the offense. He did exactly what was asked of him by playing with speed, taking the body and playing bigger than he is. There was no quit in the small forward, who did a fine job at the center position.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 2-2–4, 0 PIM
Emerson Etem — In two years at the World Junior Championship, Etem has one goal. The player on pace for a career year in the WHL, with 30 goals already this season, couldn’t bury in this year’s event. Etem took 24 shots, but couldn’t seem to get one in. Despite the lack of goal scoring, Etem wasn’t a complete non-factor. He ended up with four assists and played with speed and brought some physicality in spots. He started the tournament on the third line, presumably to help spread out the offense in more a top-9 set up as opposed to the tradition top-6. Still, Etem was expected to score goals in Alberta, and he didn’t. That’s what will stand out unfortunately.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 0-4–4, 2 PIM
J.T. Miller — Miller is the only forward that will be eligible to return next year, and could be a key player in 2013. In certain spots of this tournament, Miller was fantastic. In others, he was just kind of there. He showed spurts of his great play-making ability and speed. He hit a post on a two-on-one against the Czechs that would have been a huge goal, but sometimes you don’t get the bounces. Miller was utilized in all situations, showing Blais had faith in his youngest forward. He’ll be back next year and should play a key role.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 2-2–4, 0 PIM
Kyle Rau — Rau’s tournament is a little difficult for me to gauge. He was great in spots, and just OK in others. The two defensive breakdowns the Rau-Czarnik-Archibald line had against Finland were pretty egregious, but Rau still played his typical hard-nosed style. He also showed some pretty solid speed throughout the tournament. Rau found himself on multiple lines throughout the tournament and it was never really settled where he fit in best, though that could be said for a number of guys.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 3-2–5, 4 PIM
Brandon Saad — I expected to see Saad explode in this tournament. He was dominant in the exhibition games and had been pretty dominant in the OHL games in which he was healthy. Saad was expected to be a top producer on this team and saw a lot of first-line minutes, but the offense never really materialized. He had four points against Latvia, but outside of that game only mustered a goal and an assist. The issues with consistency have always followed Saad and this tournament did nothing to deny that notion. He showed the skills at times that allowed him to be in the NHL at the beginning of this season, but never sustained it. More was expected of him.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 1-5–6, 0 PIM
T.J. Tynan — Tynan was good for much of the tournament, playing fast and hard every shift. He has a great motor on him and looks like he’s working hard every time he hits the ice. The one issue I noticed consistently with Tynan was his inability to finish plays. He’d get all the way down the ice and either turn it over, or have a pass broken up or miss the net. He was so good at getting into the zone, but when it came time to make a play, it just wasn’t clicking. That said, he was a guy that seemed to provide energy every shift and brought a consistent effort to the ice every night.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 1-3–4, 2 PIM
Austin Watson — Watson tied the American record for points in a single game with seven against Latvia. He only had two points in the rest of the tournament, but Watson wasn’t there to be an offensive juggernaut. Still, he finished the tournament leading the team with nine points. He played mostly fourth-line minutes until the Latvia game and was depended on for sound defense and physicality. In that regard he was alright. You don’t often expect first-round picks to be fourth line guys, but that was the role he was assigned for the team because he’s proven he can play that style of game in the past.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 3-6–9, 0 PIM
Jason Zucker — The team captain finished the tournament with seven points, good for second on the team, but most would agree it wasn’t an overwhelmingly positive tournament for Zucker. Against Finland, he found his ice time decreasing after not playing a very Jason Zucker-like game and was off the top line again against the Czech Republic. More was expected of him in his third go-around at the World Juniors and despite the seven points it’s hard to say he lived up to it. He also did well with the team after it was eliminated from medal contention, still playing hard through the last three game in which there was little to play for.
Final Stat Line: 6 GP, 3-4–7, 0 PIM
Team USA’s forwards will probably be remembered for failing to meet expectations, which is unfortunate. Coming into the tournament, I don’t think anyone believed this group would struggle to score goals.
I wouldn’t judge all of these players on 11 days worth of work. Most will probably go back to their productive selves after all is said and done, but it was a pretty inopportune time for a power outage. That said, there’s a lot of talent here and most of these guys will probably be in the NHL at some point in their career. The future is bright for this group, but this result will always be a chink in the armor of these players.
Well, it’s hard to believe, but after a solid month of near non-stop World Junior Championship coverage, it’s all over.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been following the blog over the past few weeks. I hope you’ll stick around for more American hockey news, analysis and opinion.
United States of Hockey shattered personal traffic records in the month of December, and has continued on a similar pace in the early parts of January. For that, I am so grateful for all of the people that have stopped by and checked out this little corner of the internet.
I’d also like to thank Dave Arnold for his fantastic pictures throughout the tournament. Please visit his site davearnoldphotography.com and check out the rest of his fantastic work. He is a great shooter and a better friend and I am so thankful for his contributions to the coverage of this U.S. National Junior Team through photography.
A big thank you also goes to my wife and her family for their understanding when I had to scurry away from holiday festivities to work on tournament coverage. The timing of the tournament can certainly be a drag on holiday enjoyment, but they were supportive and that’s all I could ask for.
I’ve had more fun in the last month on this blog than I’ve ever had professionally, so I’m sad to see this year’s World Junior coverage come to an end. That said, I’m really excited to figure out what’s next for United States of Hockey and continue to cover the greatest game in the world.
Once again, thank you!