Over the last three World Junior Championships, the U.S. has been able to rely on the goaltending of Jack Campbell, who always seemed to up his game in the USA jersey. Now the torch has been passed to the very capable John Gibson who saw action in one game at last year’s WJC. He’s the odds on favorite to start, with three goalies in camp vying for that second goalie spot.
Goaltender used to be the nightmare position for the U.S. National Junior Team, but it appears those days are mostly behind the Americans. It seems as though every year there are no less than four or five guys that could step in and be a World Junior goalie and handle the job.
The same is true in this camp. There is actually an overabundance of adequate candidates that there could be a couple of guys not in camp that can emerge throughout the first half of next season to push for a spot.
The only one who should probably be written in ink on the projected roster is Gibson.
Coming up after the jump, an in-depth look at the four goaltenders in camp.
The goalies are split up by team, then alphabetically, following the same format as the other posts:
Name — 2012-13 Team — Draft rights (Team, Rd., Overall, Year) — Report
John Gibson — Kitchener Rangers — ANA, 2nd Rd., 39th Overall, 2011 — One of just three returnees for the U.S. National Junior Team in camp, Gibson is on the team, undoubtedly. He’s almost certainly the starter too. Gibson made some mistakes in the loss to Finland in last year’s WJC, but he’s not the type of guy who gets his confidence shaken. One of his former goalie coaches told me he is going to be a long-time NHLer due to his immense mental toughness. His calm demeanor in the net, athleticism and large 6-3, 212 frame make him one of the best goalie prospects in all of hockey. Yes, you heard that right. He was dominant at the 2011 World U18s, earning the directorate award as best goaltender, and had a strong first season in the OHL with Kitchener. If the U.S. is going to challenge for gold in Ufa, Gibson has to be at the top of his game and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be.
Jon Gillies — Providence College — CGY, 3rd, 75, 2012 — The 6-5, 226-pound behemoth in goal has come a long way since last August. After getting shelled in the Ivan Hlinka, thanks in large part to a porous defense, Gillies put together a terrific season for the Indiana Ice in the USHL. The big man is likely the favorite to win the backup role due to his relative polish compared to his counterparts. Mike Ayers, USA Hockey’s national goaltending coach, shared what Gillies needs to work on prior to the NHL Draft: “The big thing with him is to make sure he’s confident in what he’s doing out there, from a mental side; that he’s not going to get nervous and just going to go out there and play. He’s grown up a lot in two years, there’s no question about it.” Gillies will have a perfect opportunity to show what he can do in this camp. The quality of competition he’ll face is as good as ever in this camp, so if there are any cracks, they’ll show. The big man should play a lot of minutes for Providence next year, so he’ll have plenty of opportunities to show he belongs on the final roster.
Garret Sparks — Guelph Storm — TOR, 7th, 190, 2011 — At 6-2, 195, Sparks is the “smallest” goaltender in camp. That’s not really a disadvantage obviously, since he’s still pretty darn big. There are a couple of strikes against Sparks however. The first is his lack of international experience. The second is that he’s a 1993-born goalie. Most often, the U.S. will bring an 18-year-old goalie to back up, especially in a situation where the starter is clear. Having a younger guy that will be in the mix for the next year’s WJC is kind of a luxury. That said, Sparks played over 3,000 minutes for Guelph last year, giving him a lot of reps against top competition. If Sparks wows during the camp and has a good first-half in Guelph, they wouldn’t think twice about going with two 1993-borns between the pipes.
Anthony Stolarz — Univ. of Nebraska Omaha — PHI, 2nd, 45, 2012 — Stolarz had a dream season, getting noticed while playing in the NAHL. He’s a bit raw, but extremely athletic and like Gillies, a 6-5 monster between the pipes. Here’s what Mike Ayers had to say about Stolarz prior to the draft, “Obviously his size, strength and athleticism are his three huge attributes. He tends to move in and out of the net very quickly and can sometimes leave tough rebounds out in front or not track pucks extremely well. His athleticism is great and it’s a huge piece to his game, but he sometimes overuses it to the point where, he’s such a big kid and takes up so much net, he could be a little bit less agressive on pucks and use his size a little more efficiently.” This camp is going to expose a lot of what Stolarz needs to work on as the jump in competition from NAHL to WJC is fairly large. He is undoubtedly the goalie I’m most looking forward to watching in camp. Stolarz is still a bit of an unknown to everyone, so this is his big opportunity to show why he was a second-round pick and the first American goalie selected in the NHL Draft. If he doesn’t make the squad this year, expect him to figure largely next year as he continues to realize his vast potential.
Don’t forget, you can catch all of the games at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp live on FASTHockey.com. For a full broadcast schedule, click here.
Coming up later today, a look at the top players on the Sweden and Finland rosters.