The International Ice Hockey Federation’s first international break is upon us this hockey season meaning several U.S. national teams will be in action this week both domestically and abroad.
One of the bigger tournaments of the break is the 2013 World Junior A Challenge, hosted in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, starting Tuesday. The tournament features the U.S., Russia, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and two Canadian regional teams — Canada West and Canada East.
The tournament is designed for players under the age of 19. The U.S. Junior Select Team is made up of players entirely from the USHL (excluding players from the National Team Development Program), while Canada’s squads are made up of players from the various Junior A leagues across the country. Team USA’s complete roster is here.
The U.S. has won this event four of the last five years, going on a streak from 2008-10 and reclaiming the title last year.
Team USA opens tournament play Tuesday against Russia. Coming up after the jump, Team USA’s full schedule, how to follow the tournament and some of the American players to watch.
The World Junior A Challenge is a great opportunity for all who participate to gain some valuable international experience. Playing in a short tournament against strong competition, especially with high expectations to win is helpful.
This is also a solid opportunity for the many draft-eligible players on Team USA to showcase themselves outside of their normal environment and some higher stakes.
The tournament will be carried in full by FASTHockey.com, and I believe the games will be free if you sign up for an account (at no cost) with the streaming service. So this is a pretty solid tournament if you want to tune and catch some future NCAA stars and probably several future NHLers as well.
The tournament starts with two round-robin games that determine the seeding for the playoff round. After that, it’s single elimination, so the margin for error is pretty thin. Team USA is in Group A with Russia and Canada East, while Group B includes Canada West, the Czech Republic and Switzerland.
Team USA’s World Junior A Challenge Schedule
Tues., Nov. 5 — USA vs. Russia — 7 p.m. ET
Wed., Nov. 6 — USA vs. Canada-East — 7 p.m. ET
Thurs., Nov. 7 — Quarterfinals — 3 p.m. OR 7 p.m. ET
Fri., Nov. 8 — Semifinals — 3 p.m. OR 7 p.m. ET
Sat., Nov. 9 — 3rd/5th Place Games — TBD
Sun., Nov. 10 — Championship Game — 1 p.m. ET
The U.S. played a pre-tournament game Saturday against Canada West, earning a 4-3 victory.
Kyle Connor scored twice in the exhibition, while Neal Pionk and Karson Kuhlman also tallied goals. Cal Petersen stopped four of five shots while splitting the net with Chris Birdsall who made 19 saves on 21 shots.
Team USA should be heavily favored to win with a very strong lineup that includes a few NHL drafted players as well as a few more who could hear their names called within the first three rounds this season. There’s also a lot of international experience on the roster for Team USA, which should prove helpful this week.
The U.S. Junior Select Team is led by Green Bay Gamblers head coach Derek Lalonde. He is joined on the bench by Youngstown Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen and Sioux City Musketeers assistant Mark Abalan.
U.S. Players to Watch
College commitments in italics at the end of each capsule. 2014 NHL Draft eligible unless otherwise noted.
Nick Schmaltz — F — Green Bay Gamblers — One of the most watched prospects in the USHL this season, Schmaltz is widely projected to be a first-round NHL Draft pick come June. He’s producing at a high clip already with 12 points in 10 games so far for Green Bay and his skill level is undeniable. He was the U.S. Under-18 Select Team’s leading scorer at the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka this year and had the ability to take over games. Though scouts would like to see his play without the puck vastly improve, his game-breaking abilities make him one of the more exciting talents on this roster. Schmaltz will likely be a top-line player for Team USA and should be looked to for serious production. University of North Dakota
Connor Hurley — F — Muskegon Lumberjacks — The 38th overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by Buffalo, Hurley comes in with some serious pedigree and a lot of expectations. Hurley played for a bunch of teams last season including part-time stints with the U.S. National Under-18 Team at the NTDP and Muskegon. He primarily played with Edina High School in Minnesota, however, and dominated with 52 points in 31 games. Now with Muskegon full-time this season, Hurley has 10 points through his first 12 games. A powerful skater with good hockey sense and offensive instincts, Hurley should be another exciting forward for the U.S. University of Notre Dame
Cal Petersen — G — Waterloo Black Hawks — The 2013 fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, Petersen has a wealth of junior experience to call upon when he steps between the pipes for Team USA. The likely No. 1 guy for the U.S. squad has good size at 6-2, 172 and is an athletic goaltender between the pipes. Petersen split duties with Eamon McAdam last season for a loaded Black Hawks team. This year, it’s his net and he’s seized the opportunity. In seven appearances, Petersen has a 6-1-0 record, 2.28 goals-against average and .928 save percentage. Look for him to carry the mail in net for Team USA. University of Notre Dame
Austin Poganski — F — Tri-City Storm — After posting a staggering 66 points in 26 games for St. Cloud (Minn.) Cathedral High School last year, Poganski decided to make the jump to the USHL for his draft season. A big-bodied forward with some power elements in his game, Poganski has some solid goal-scoring talent. He still may be adjusting to the USHL a bit as he was slowed earlier in the season with a minor injury, but he’s put up four goals in eight games so far with Tri-City. Poganski also has some international experience. He joined the U.S. National Under-17 Team for the World U17 Challenge last season and put up a team-best six goals. He was also part of this year’s Ivan Hlinka team, notching two assists in the tournament. Look for him to be a potential breakout player for the U.S. at the World Junior A. University of North Dakota
Kyle Connor — F — Youngstown Phantoms — Though not draft eligible until 2015, Connor is making a statement this season with his play in the USHL. After a stellar 41-point season as a 16-year-old rookie last season, Connor is off to a quick start with 16 points in 12 games so far, good for sixth in the USHL. Connor was also a member of this year’s Ivan Hlinka team and had three points in the tournament. Based on his hot start to the USHL season, look for that to carry over to the WJAC. University of Michigan
Joshua Jacobs — D — Indiana Ice — Though never flashy, I’ve spoken to a few scouts that really like what Jacobs brings to the table. He plays more of a simple game, doing a lot of little things well and playing smart, hard-working hockey. In 10 games with Indiana this year, he already has six points, which represents an uptick in production from last season. Jacobs last international experience came at the Youth Olympic Games in 2012 where he had three assists. He might not jump off the screen, but he should play a pretty steady game for the U.S. at the WJAC. Michigan State University
Teemu Kivihalme — D — Fargo Force — A 2013 fifth-round pick by the Nashville Predators, Kivihalme is a high-upside defenseman who is in his first full-time season in the USHL. Though Kivihalme also holds Finnish citizenship, he previously played for the U.S. at last year’s Memorial of Ivan Hlinka. The Minnesota native spent most of last year in the high school ranks with Burnsville where he posted 30 points in 25 games. He has three assists in seven games so far with Fargo. Colorado College
Shane Eiserman — F — Dubuque Fighting Saints — Eiserman should bring some value with a lot of international experience, along with a good combination of skill and some grit. Eiserman was part of the NTDP last season, but with a year of high school left, is spending this season with Dubuque. Through his first eight games with the Fighting Saints he has six points. Eiserman also was one of the better players at this year’s All-American Prospects Game. As part of the NTDP last year, Eiserman was part of the U.S. National Under-18 Team that took silver at the World Under-18 Championship. Having played in such high level tournaments will certainly come in handy for the U.S. Junior Selects. University of New Hampshire
There are a lot of good players on this U.S. squad, so this team should do pretty well at the World Junior A Challenge. With four titles in five years, the standard has been set, so there is some pressure to live up to that.
Some other notes on the tournament…
— Maxim Tretiak is one of the goaltenders that will be joining Team Russia at the World Junior A Challenge. If that last name sounds familiar, it should. Maxim is the grandson of legendary Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, who also runs Russia’s hockey federation now. The 17-year-old netminder isn’t draft eligible until 2015, but he has been solid for CSKA’s junior club this year.
— Several of the players on the two Canadian teams have made college commitments. Here is the list:
G – Ben Blacker – Western Michigan
F – Corey Kalk – Dartmouth
F – Derian Plouffe – Niagara
F – Mike Soucier – Bemidji State
F – Jake Evans – Notre Dame
F – Taylor Best – Mercyhurst
F – Jeff Wight – UConn
F – Rhett Gardner – North Dakota
F – Alex Gillies – Michigan Tech
F – Demico Hannoun – Michigan Tech
F – Nicholas Jones – Ohio State
F – Anthony Paskaruk – Clarkson
F – Steen Cooper – Minnesota State
D – Adam Plant – Harvard
D – Maddison Smiley – UMass
D – Dane Birks – Michigan Tech
D – Viktor Dombrovskiy – Yale
D – Paul Stoykewych – Western Michigan
F – Andrew Taverner – Quinnipiac
The World Junior A Challenge is a solid tournament that gives a lot of players a good taste of what international hockey is all about. Last year’s U.S. team was awfully fun to watch and with the skill level this year, it should be more of the same. We’ll have a recap of the tournament upon its completion. Until then, USA Hockey will have post-game recaps and stats here.