Announced last week, the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team roster is set and already training in Sochi, Russia for the 2013 IIHF World Under-18 Championship. Team USA seeks its unprecedented fifth consecutive gold medal at the World Under-18s, which will also serve as a test event for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
The U.S. squad is led by head coach Don Granato, who is getting his first run at the World Under-18 Championship since joining the National Team Development Program last season.
He’ll bring a roster of 23 players, made up almost exclusively of members of the National Team Development Program’s Under-18 Team. Defenseman Will Butcher and forwards J.T. Compher and Anthony Louis are returning players from last year’s championship team, which enjoyed one of the most dominant performances in the event’s history by allowing just four goals all tournament.
Coming up after the jump, more about the tournament, how to follow from the U.S. and a quick rundown of Team USA’s roster.
The World Under-18 Championship is one of the best showcases of NHL Draft-eligible talent annually, featuring ten of the best hockey nations under two roofs in Sochi. The U.S. will enter the tournament as favorites, but host Russia, last year’s silver medalist Sweden, Finland and Canada will all ice threats for gold.
FASTHockey will provide complete coverage of Team USA at the event. I’ve got the play-by-play from here and after some technical difficulties during the U.S. exhibition with Canada, we should have a full broadcast going forward.
Team USA brought to Russia a roster that includes 20 players from the NTDP’s regular Under-18 Team roster. Two players from the NTDP’s U17 squad — goalie Blake Weyrick and forward Jack Eichel — made the cut, while Minnetonka High School’s Tommy Vanelli represents the lone non-NTDP player on the roster.
Here’s a quick look at all 23 players on Team USA’s roster. Note: All players 2013 NHL Draft eligible unless otherwise noted. College commitments in parenthesis. Players listed in alphabetical order by position.
Thatcher Demko (Boston College) — Likely the go-to starter for Team USA, Demko has been solid much of the season despite battling some injuries along the way. With good size and athleticism, Demko is another in a long line of topflight goalies for USA Hockey at the U18 level. Team USA’s goaltenders have been named directorate award winners as the tournament’s best at the U18 level in each of the last three events. Demko has the tools to join Jack Campbell, John Gibson and Collin Olson. Goaltending is always a big key to anything the U.S. accomplishes in tournaments like these. Considering the season Demko has put together, he’s going to be a key player throughout the tournament. 37 GP, 26-6-0, 2.o7, .912, 5 SO. Draft Eligible in 2014
Hunter Miska (Uncommitted) — Miska is likely to be the No. 3 on this squad, but his wealth of international experience will prove helpful. He’s only in his fifth year as a goalie, if you can believe it. To be at this level already is a huge compliment to his rapid development. Miska has to rely on his athleticism and instinct a bit more at 6-0, 170. He still has plenty of development time ahead of him and possesses enough upside to keep an eye on down the road. U17 Team: 8 GP, 0-7-0, 3.55, .881, 0 SO. U18 Team: 18 GP, 8-5-3, 2.86, .857, 0 SO.
Blake Weyrick (Uncommitted) — One of two 1996-born players on the roster, Weyrick could see time as Demko’s backup. Though he missed much of the year with an injury, Weyrick’s talent and potential is pretty obvious. At 6-2, 200, he fills the net well and has good athleticism. Most likely, he’ll only see action if absolutely necessary or if Demko needs a breather. Either way, Team USA can have faith in this youngster to get the job done. U18 Team: 2-2-0, 2.95, .866, 0 SO. U17 Team: 1-4-1, 3.33, .893, 0 SO. Draft eligible in 2014
Gage Ausmus (Uncommitted) — As a very steady defensive defenseman, Ausmus is solid in front of his own net. He has good size and strength at 6-1, 204 and sound defensive awareness. He does a lot of the little things well and can be a physical presence. While not known as a puck-mover, he makes a good first pass. You don’t always notice Ausmus, but that’s merely a compliment of his simple, steady game. Ausmus was previously committed to Denver, but rescinded after George Gwozdecky was fired. He’ll be a good shutdown guy for Team USA. 48 GP, 2-10–12, 46 PIM
Will Butcher (Denver) — Butcher is a returnee from last year’s team and was part of one of the best defensive groups the U.S. has ever assembled at the World U18s. With gold-medal experience, much will be expected of Butcher this time around as he’ll play a much more featured role in 2013 after serving as a seventh defenseman last year. A gifted offensive-minded defenseman, Butcher has good hands and skates extremely well. He has a great release on his shot and isn’t afraid to use it. Butcher has good vision and excellent distribution skills. He should see a lot of ice time and contribute in many ways for Team USA. 48 GP, 9-24–33, 6 PIM
Connor Clifton (Quinnipiac) — A good two-way defender, Clifton provides the U.S. a defenseman that can be used in a lot of different situations. He has good physical strength and plays with a bit of snarl, too. On top of it, he has shown solid offensive capabilities with a good shot from the point and the ability to get the puck up ice with some solid passing and skating. He might be considered undersized at 5-11, 171, but he makes up for it with his physical game and confidence on the ice. 58 GP, 6-14–20, 110 PIM
Clint Lewis (Cornell) — Another solid defender, Lewis is Team USA’s biggest on the back end at 6-2, 206. He can be physical, block shots and play a style that helps teams win hockey games. There’s a steadiness and maturity that makes Lewis reliable in all zones. His defense-first nature is good for a team that has its fair share of high-end puck-movers and guys who like to get involved in the play offensively. 48 GP, 0-9–9, 29 PIM
Steven Santini (Boston College) — A good all-around defender, Santini excels particularly in the defensive zone. He has good awareness and confidence in his decisions. His skating is strong and at times he can be a powerful presence. With good size and strength, Santini isn’t going to lose many battles along the boards and he’ll engage physically. His offensive game continues to progress as he’s shown good vision and solid passing ability. Santini won’t be confused with an offensive defenseman, but he is more than serviceable with his passing and offensive-zone awareness. 58 GP, 0-15–15, 44 PIM
Keaton Thompson (North Dakota) — Another solid all-around rearguard for Team USA, Thompson can log a lot of minutes and be effective in all zones. With good size and strength, he and Santini make a difficult pairing to play against when together. He doesn’t shy away from the physical game and once he gets a little more confidence, he could be a special player down the line. Thompson has good distribution skills and a good shot from the point if he has the time. His mobility is going to be a key on the big surface. 59 GP, 4-17–21, 36 PIM
Tommy Vanelli (Minnesota) — The lone player to be selected from outside of the NTDP, it’s easy to see why USA Hockey brought along Vanelli. He has played a total of 12 games this season with the U-18s, so he’s still familiar with the squad. With excellent skating and keen offensive instincts, Vanelli could be a scoring threat from the back end. He has creativity with the puck on his stick and is good at creating time and space for himself and opening up passing lanes. Vanelli is never afraid to jump into plays, though he’ll have to pick his spots well on the bigger ice surface. Though he could afford to get stronger, Vanelli has good size and reach that aid him in the defensive zone. Even as a non-NTDP player, he should play a big role in Sochi. Minnetonka H.S.: 27 GP, 10-25–35, 14 PIM // U18: 12 GP, 1-1–2, 4 PIM (with U18s)
Evan Allen (Michigan) — One of four 20-goal scorers on the U.S. roster this year, Allen can be a consistent source of offense for Team USA. He has good speed, to go along with some solid puck skills and a goal-scorer’s release. His ability to get pucks to the net will be important particularly against the more stout defensive teams like Finland. Allen isn’t afraid to shoot from anywhere and with increased time and space on the big surface, that could be deadly. 59 GP, 20-23–43, 16 PIM
J.T. Compher (Michigan) — One of the returning players from last year’s roster, Compher will be a key leader for this group. He plays a solid all-around game, giving Team USA a strong producer and a player that is committed to defense as well. Compher’s physical strength is an asset when playing against his age group as he can power through checks, deliver hits and get to all the tough areas of the ice with relative ease. He has a terrific shot and underrated hands. Though he missed significant time with an injury earlier in the season, he is one of Team USA’s top point-getters, having put up nearly a point-per-game and a team-best 28 assists. 44 GP, 15-28–43, 43 PIM
Dawson Cook (Notre Dame) — A big, rugged forward for Team USA, Cook comes with a solid two-way game. He can bring physicality to the table and is useful on the penalty kill and in defensive situations. He moves well for a bigger player and has good awareness around the ice. It’s important to have guys like Cook in tournaments like these. Team USA is going to go up against several teams with immense skill. Bringing some muscle and someone that can keep up with top forwards is key. He can also put up a few points here and there with a good-enough offensive game. 51 GP, 7-7–14, 10 PIM.
Jack Eichel (Boston University) — Team USA’s youngest player may be its most intriguing. Eichel isn’t draft eligible for two more years, but his overall skill level is notable. Since getting called up from the Under-17 Team in February, Eichel has been averaging just over a point-per-game with eight goals and seven assists in 14 contests with the U18s. He had 19 goals in 36 games with the U17s as well. Eichel can be a difference maker for Team USA, giving it some terrific scoring depth up front. This could be a breakout moment for the already highly-regarded Eichel. U18: 14 GP, 8-7–15, 8 PIM. U17: 36, 19-13–34, 16 PIM. Draft Eligible in 2015
Shane Eiserman (New Hampshire) — Eiserman has good speed and skill to bring to the table to go along with a solid frame. At 6-2, 196, he’s tough to push around and has shown flashes of strong skills to create offense and get pucks to the net. At his best, Eiserman is tough to contain in the offensive zone and he can get to the middle of the ice well. Consistency is the key for Eiserman. His point totals weren’t overwhelming this year, but he should be able to create a little better within his own age group. He’ll be an intriguing guy to watch. 49 GP, 10-10–20, 37 PIM. Draft eligible in 2014
Hudson Fasching (Minnesota) — A big, strong forward, Fasching can do a little bit of everything for Team USA. He has shown flashes of high-end skill, which is an added bonus for players at his size. Fasching can get up and down the ice very well and contribute offensively. He’ll bring some physicality to the game as well and at 6-2, 214, he’s going to be tough to out-muscle. Team USA’s size advantage up front should help a lot as the tournament progresses and Fasching’s play will be a big part of that. 57 GP, 11-18–29, 54 PIM
John Hayden (Yale) — Hayden’s name has risen up draft charts in recent months as the big power forward has shown an ability to play a strong all-around game. He brings some toughness and solid physical play, but also has the ability to jump into the offensive foray. He had 32 points in just 45 games this year and has shown an ability to use his size and strength to his advantage in generating offense. At 6-3, 221, he is tough to knock off the puck and battles well along the walls. His style should give opponents a lot of trouble, even on the bigger ice. 45 GP, 16-16–32, 78 PIM
Tyler Kelleher (New Hampshire) — The NTDP’s leading scorer this year is going to be a key part of Team USA’s scoring attack in Sochi. At 5-6, 154, the size may seem like a concern, but once he gets going, it’s pretty clear 5-6, 154 are just numbers. No, he won’t push anyone around, but he’s going to be tough to catch and even tougher to hit. With good speed and creativity, Kelleher combines both to generate a lot offense and get to where he needs to be to score. His 26 goals and 52 points are both team highs for the U18s this year. He can be awfully exciting to watch with the puck on his stick. 59 GP, 26-26–52, 32 PIM
Kevin Labanc (Notre Dame) — A forward with some really good puck skills, Labanc has shown an ability to contribute in all zones. His point production was a bit low this season, but he has the potential to bring some more offense. If Team USA finds itself in a shootout, it’s highly likely Labanc will get tapped on the shoulder to go. He’s had some dazzling goals in shootouts over his young career. Labanc is also able to help out a bit defensively and has some good skills to aid in puck possession. 54 GP, 8-12–20, 28 PIM
Anthony Louis (Miami) — Another 5-6 forward and also a returnee for Team USA, Louis is also a productive player. He finished second behind Kelleher with 47 points. Louis is a crafty stickhandler and solid distributor. His creativity opens up passing lanes and helps make those around him better. Louis is an excellent distributor and often makes good decisions with the puck. Louis also isn’t afraid to go to the tough areas of the ice despite his size. When at his best, Louis is fun to watch for fans and deadly for opposing teams. 54 GP, 21-26–47, 18 PIM
Sean Malone (Harvard) — A hard-working forward that matches skill with some physical strength, Malone is extremely effective at both ends of the ice. Malone is good in puck pursuit and isn’t afraid to throw the body. With the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, he seems to find a way to get it to the net often. Malone has some deceptive puck skills and uses his body well to shield the puck. He’s also strong on his skates, which is a huge plus. 42 GP, 15-16–31, 19 PIM
Michael McCarron (Western Michigan) — Team USA’s biggest player at 6-5, 227, McCarron has become a physical force this season. Even with his size, McCarron has proven to be a solid puck handler and passer. He is known mainly for his toughness and physical play as he led the team by a large margin with 166 penalty minutes this year. He can’t take penalties like that in international play, but there’s a lot more to his game than mixing things up. McCarron skates very well and is good with the puck on his stick. He also has good distribution skills and vision. He can use his immense frame in puck protection, but is also confident to make some moves to create some extra space. There’s a chance he could go higher than projections as he’s displayed some big talent to go along with his big body. McCarron could be one to watch closely in Sochi. 51 GP, 13-17–30, 166 PIM.
Tyler Motte (Michigan) — Motte may be one of the more underrated players on this U.S. squad. He has great speed and skill, but flies relatively under the radar. He’s competitive on every loose puck and is difficult to get it away from. Though his numbers haven’t shown it this year, he’s great at generating chances and can do it in a variety of ways. Though a bit on the small side, Motte is strong along the walls and gets where he needs to, to get the puck. He’ll likely play a big role offensively in this tournament and could end up being a key player in Team USA’s success. 59 GP, 21-16–37, 46 PIM
USA-Canada Exhibition Recap
The U.S. met Canada in its lone tuneup for the World Under-18 Championship Sunday in Sochi. Team USA downed its North American rival 4-1. It was clear both teams were simply trying to prepare for the tournament, but there was no shortage of physicality.
Quick rundown of the USA goals…
Evan Allen scored to make it 1-0 with a power-play marker. Mike McCarron and Tyler Kelleher received assists on the play. Allen’s goal was a nice display of patience as he waited out goalie Spencer Martin and chipped the puck into the top left corner from in close.
Jack Eichel scored the second goal after finishing a rebound that popped right to his stick. He had the whole net to shoot at, but did a good job of making the open look count.
Connor Clifton made it 3-0 on an absolute rocket of a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circles. The puck hit the back of the net with such force that the sound echoed loudly throughout the sparsely-filled building.
Sean Malone gave the U.S. a 4-0 lead after he picked up a loose puck and was able to slide it past the Canadian netminder on a bit of a broken play.
Thatcher Demko made 12 stops in 40 minutes of action and looked comfortable between the pipes. Blake Weyrick made eight stops and allowed one goal in mop-up duty. He also made a tremendous kick save from point-blank range to rob a sure goal.
The U.S. will open tournament play against Russia on Thursday at noon ET live on FASTHockey.com. For more on Team USA, visit USA Hockey’s official U18 Worlds website here.