Hello, America. It’s good to see you again.
Thanks to a well-timed day off and an itch that just could no longer be ignored, United States of Hockey is back for a limited time only. The U.S. National Junior Team’s pre-tournament camp is underway and since I’m not covering it for my regular job with CBSSports.com, I decided to take the free time I did have and write more. Just don’t tell my wife, OK?
And just to be clear, this is just for the next six days. Once the World Junior Championship begins, you can find extensive coverage at CBSSports.com. It might not be as extensive as you enjoyed here, but very similar USA game recap format will be there after each contest and there will be more coverage of the other teams as well.
Thirty hopefuls for Team USA’s entry to the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship descended on Boston earlier this week to try out. Only 23 can make it, so it’s a heavy camp. After three full days of practice and exhibition game against Boston University, the U.S. squad is starting to take shape.
USA Hockey released three players from camp before it transitions to Kingston, Ont., where Team USA’s expanded roster will continue practicing and they’ll also play two exhibition games. The first is Dec. 21 against Germany, with the second against perennial contender Sweden. The final roster is expected to be revealed by Christmas Eve. It could be a day or two before as USA Hockey tends to like having the roster picked by the last exhibition game to play as one unit. With four cuts left to make, however, that could be difficult.
So here’s how this post works. It’s really long… so it’s been chunked up for you. If you want to know who scored and how Friday, that’s up first. Team USA’s full lineup from the game is next. Some brief general thoughts come after that, then it’s a look at each player for Team USA and a separate look at the cuts made. All of that is after the jump.
So to get you caught up, the U.S. downed No. 1 Boston University by a 5-2 scoreline. Of course, they had BU’s best player in their own lineup with Jack Eichel wearing the “C” for the Red, White… and Blue.
After the game, the U.S. let go forward Mike McCarron, defenseman Jack Dougherty and surprisingly, Adam Erne, who would have been a returning player from last season. I haven’t had time to double check, but the last time I can recall a returnee that was available for the tournament getting cut was Bobby Ryan in 2007. Yes, that Bobby Ryan.
I’ll get to some cut analysis in a bit, but first, here’s a quick rundown of Team USA’s performance against Boston University.
Team USA 5 – Boston University 2
1. USA, Noah Hanifin (Chase De Leo, Cole Cassels), 9:37 (SH) — Team USA’s PK wasn’t overly aggressive, but when Chase De Leo had room to skate, he took advantage. Up the ice he went and down came Hanifin in a dead sprint from the top of USA’s faceoff circles. He just had to present his stick, De Leo hit him right in the sweet spot and Hanifin popped a deflection to the top corner.
2. USA, Jack Eichel (Will Butcher, Jack Dougherty), 10:01 (SH) — On the same PK, a similar play developed with Eichel having the chance to take the puck down the ice in a two-on-one. He had an outlet, but he elected shot and was it ever a pretty one. The shot was off his stick in a hurry and even though it looked like Matt O’Connor had the angle, it was over his shoulder and the home crowd had a goal from one of their own against their own.
3. USA, Chase De Leo (Sonny Milano, Anthony Louis), 2:04 — This goal was the result of winning battles along the boards and moving the puck extremely quickly after. A board battle on the half wall ended up with Sonny Milano wining a puck around the boards. Defenseman Anthony DeAngelo was there to collect it, but fooled the defending forward by allowing the puck to drop to Louis. The Miami University forward threw a wobbly wrist shot on net. The rebound popped to Milano who got stuffed and that rebound found De Leo. He made a nice move around the defender and put one past the outstetched limbs of Connor LaCouvee.
4. BU, Brandon Hickey (Brandon Fortunato, Nick Robert0), 11:47 — Hickey has a bomb of a shot, but U.S. goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic seemed to be on it. Nevertheless, the puck squeaked through Nedljkovic somehow and ended up rolling across the goal line.
5. USA, J.T. Compher (Jeremy Bracco, Nick Schmaltz), 9:21 — The speed at which this puck was moved around among the forwards was extremely impressive. The forwards had to battle down low to keep things moving, but once Schmaltz dished it off to Compher from the corner, things happened fast. Compher sent it over to Bracco on the near side and headed straight for the net front. Bracco put the puck right on Compher’s stick and all he had to do was tap it in.
6. BU, Danny O’Regan (Brandon Hickey, Brandon Fortunato), 11:31 — Hickey took another bomb from the point. It deflected off of Jack Dougherty, who may have over-pursued a bit and left O’Regan all alone. He slid it past Nedeljkovic, who got fooled by the deflection on the point-shot.
7. USA, Anthony DeAngelo (Sonny Milano, Chase De Leo), 19:32 (EN) — Scored on a flipper from center ice. DeAngelo appeared to just make the red line as well so as to avoid icing the puck. He hit the back of the net on the fly.
Team USA’s starting lineup vs. BU:
Tyler Motte – Jack Eichel – Alex Tuch
Nick Schmaltz – J.T. Compher – Jeremy Bracco
Sonny Milano – Chase De Leo – Anthony Louis
Adam Erne – Cole Cassels – Mike McCarron
Will Butcher – Anthony DeAngelo
Michael Downing – Ryan Collins
Noah Hanifin – Brandon Carlo
Scratched: Ian McCoshen, Hudson Fasching, Auston Matthews, Dylan Larkin, John Hayden, Steven Santini, Thatcher Demko, Zach Werenski
– Team USA allowed just nine shots on goal through the first two periods. That included just one shot on net for BU in the opening frame. The puck possession looked as dominant as the shot counter would suggest, too. When Team USA had the puck, they weren’t wasting it a whole lot. This is the style they want to play. Move the puck, move it fast and don’t waste possessions.
– The U.S. scored two shorthanded goals. Their aggressiveness on the points created turnovers and the fast transition game killed BU.
– Team USA took only two penalties all game and I don’t think that was indicative of lenient officiating as much as it was the U.S. owning the puck and just being so much faster.
– BU is a great team, but take Jack Eichel out of that lineup and they sure looked rather ordinary. Of course, they were playing a virtual all-star team of some of the best U20 players in the world. This U.S. squad outclassed a really strong college outfit and probably weren’t even close to their best.
– As expected, the players scratched are all through to the next round of cuts. I’d expect to see all but Steven Santini play in the next exhibition with others like Eichel, Sonny Milano, Alex Tuch and Tyler Motte getting a breather. The players out of the lineup today probably don’t have a lot to worry about.
Player notes (in no particular order):
Anthony DeAngelo (TBL) — Before the camp roster was even named, I wasn’t sure if the U.S. was going to give DeAngelo another shot. He wasn’t in the summer camp and was an early cut at this point last year. However, with his performance against Boston University, DeAngelo rewarded the decision-makers for giving him the chance. He was excellent in just about every way he needed to be. DeAngelo can freelance a lot, but I thought he was judicious with the puck against BU. He was patient as well and didn’t try to force things, but was one of the most exciting players on the ice. His puck handling is on another tier compared to his competitors for a roster spot. He just needs to continually build trust with this coaching staff and show that he can play within himself, without losing that flair for the offensive and some of his natural aggression.
Noah Hanifin (2015) — At times, a lot of times, Hanifin looked like the best defenseman on the ice Friday. His poise with the puck, fluidity with his puck movement and general awareness made him look nothing like the 17-year-old college freshman that he is. He processes the game so fast and that makes him effective at both ends of the ice. Hanifin opened the game’s scoring with hustle and awareness to get up ice to give De Leo an outlet. He looked like a guy that belongs in Team USA’s top four.
Jack Eichel (2015) — Eichel had a strong game overall and was extremely effective against his regular team. His shorthanded goal came after an insane release and it’s clear that he has a lot of chemistry with Alex Tuch. I don’t know that I’d say Eichel was holding back any Friday, but in a more competitive game, he’d probably be able to turn it up a bit more. There’s just so much that he does well.
Alex Tuch (MIN) — Every time I see Tuch it seems he’s just a little bit better than he was in the previous viewing. Despite having good physical size, Tuch has a lot of skill and he made several high-skill plays Friday. The quick hands and the ability to simultaneously protect the puck with his frame makes him so difficult to defend and it made him a threatening forward for much of the game while playing on Jack Eichel’s right wing.
Chase De Leo (WPG) — Three points in the game was a great way for De Leo to start this process. I don’t know that he earned his spot outright, but he made a good case. There’s still a battle form him in my estimation just because of the depth at the center position. He was good offensively and played well on the PK when called upon. He looked pretty strong at five-on-five as well, which was a concern I had coming into camp. I don’t think he blew anyone away despite the points, but there’s reason for him to still be there and still have an honest shot at making the final club.
Michael Downing (FLA) — Downing was one of the more pleasant surprises in the game in my estimation. He made a lot of mature plays out there, showed some confidence with the puck on his stick and also played the body a lot. He did take a fairly bad penalty late in the game in trying to prevent BU forward Matt Lane from getting around him by appearing to stick a leg out. There were a few other tense moments, but he looked like a 19-year-old should in this camp and that matters.
Miles Wood (NJD) — The lone invitee from prep school was a player I had really not seen before, so I was intrigued. Wood has size and ability, no doubt. The question I still have after the game is if he’s going to be able to play at the pace necessary and think the game at the pace he’ll need to, to be a factor for this team. The USA staff may need to get another game out of him to see exactly what they have, but I think it might be a tough road ahead for him to make the squad. Wood played on a line with Eichel and Tuch at times before the regular LW on that line, Tyler Motte, got his regular shift back. Even though he needs another gear, he didn’t look out of place despite the massive jump from prep school to the World Juniors. The physical side of his game gives him a chance.
Brandon Halverson (NYR) — The big netminder saw six shots for the entire time he was in net. That’s tough to get a good read on. Halverson is noted for his great puck-handling ability. Like a lot of young goalies, I wonder if he may be too eager to play the puck. He had an icing trying to make a stretch pass and flat out missed a puck he tried to play in once instance. When he does have it on his stick, he definitely has handles. Unfortunately, he really only had one challenging shot to face all game and looked fine. It will be interesting to see how he fares with more work.
Alex Nedeljkovic (CAR) — Though the first goal he allowed wasn’t a great one, Nedeljkovic settled in and made some tough saves in traffic. He made 10 stops overall in the game and looked pretty calm and steady between the pipes. Nedeljkovic definitely was challenged a lot more often than Halverson was, but still tough to get a good gauge on 12 shots.
Brandon Carlo (2015) — I was extremely interested to see what Carlo could do and I can see why scouts are really warming up to him as a potential early second-round pick. He has great size and moves well enough, but there’s still some rawness to him. I’m not 100 percent convinced he’d be ready for what the WJC is going to throw at him, but he definitely earned the right to stay in camp.
Ryan Collins (CBJ) — Perhaps Carlo’s biggest competitor for a roster spot, the similarly huge Collins had a solid game. It wasn’t a spectacular performance, but there’s a lot he does well at age 18. He moves extremely well for a 6-foot-5 defenseman and made some really nice reads. He had a few moments where he probably could have been stronger on an opponent, but there’s a lot to like about his game. There’s going to be a battle for a spot, and if Steven Santini can’t go, a guy like Collins could have a leg up in filling a defensive role as he’s a bit more polished than Carlo.
Will Butcher (COL) — As a returning player, Butcher didn’t do a ton that stood out, but I think he kept things fairly simple. That was more of a positive than anything else. I think he’s at his best when he’s engaged offensively and there were a few flashes of that. I think his status remains pretty safe as a returning player, but the emergence of Anthony DeAngelo makes it at least a little hazier now.
J.T. Compher (BUF) — After tying for the team lead with six shots on goal, I thought Compher overcame a slow start to become one of Team USA’s most consistently noticeable forwards. There were a lot of high-skill plays and plays made with speed that are hallmarks of how this team wants to play. He’s got a real shot at wearing a letter for this team when the tournament comes around.
Nick Schmaltz (CHI) — I thought Schmaltz worked extremely well with Compher and Jeremy Bracco. That unit produced one goal and a lot of opportunities. The speed and skill made them so tough to contain. Schmaltz has some serious hands and he has an ability to extend plays as well as anyone. That’s a huge benefit for a team that wants to out-possess their opponents.
Sonny Milano (CBJ) — I thought Milano was pretty strong in the game, not earth-shattering, but good. He is an interesting player and could be a vital scoring option for Team USA. Milano had two assists and looks noticeably stronger than he did even in the summer. With Adam Erne cut, Milano has to be a big factor in the scoring department.
Jeremy Bracco (2015) — Making this team as an underager is pretty tough, but Bracco is going to give it an honest shot. He’s a little bit on the lighter side, but he plays without fear and has the skills that can open up a lot of space for his teammates. He didn’t look in the least bit out of place with this group despite his age.
Anthony Louis (CHI) — The smaller, but dynamic forward made some plays on the ice. He has some tenacity, which goes a long way. I don’t know that we saw Louis’ best game against Boston University, but I’d like to see how he does in the next game. There’s a lot of skill to his game and he has the right kind of personality to fit into this team and its gameplan.
Tyler Motte (CHI) — Versatility is something that Motte can bring and I think he showed that again. He was the last cut from last year’s team and looked energized against BU. He can play on the PK, the power play or anywhere else and do well.
Cole Cassels (VAN) — Cassels wasn’t overly noticeable, but he was involved in the game at both ends. As a top scoring in the OHL, I wondered what kind of offensive edge he would have, but I was more impressed with his focus on defense. He played a lower-lineup role and had some great back-checking plays and looked to own his role. He’s another guy where it’s tough at this point to see where he fits, but that could be sorted out with another game.
Adam Erne (TBL) — It is extremely rare for a returning player to be cut from the team, which is why seeing Erne go on first cuts is shocking. It’s more the timing than the actual cut that I find surprising though. When you have an older guy in camp that has been there before, more is expected of that player. Erne wasn’t very strong at last year’s tournament and while he was third on the team with four shots on goal in the game, there just wasn’t a lot there to suggest he had taken a big step forward from last year’s tournament. He missed the summer camp with an injury and maybe that put him behind some, but he looked a little too ordinary in a game he needed to be assertive. The U.S. has such a deep forward group this year as well, so that’s a big factor as well.
Mike McCarron (MTL) — The Habs first rounder has to be disappointed with this result, but it probably also should not come as a surprise either. I have liked McCarron for years now because the physical gifts are there and he has some touch for a big fella. His numbers in the OHL suggested that he was starting to put things together, but that was not evident in Friday night’s game. There were some tough turnovers and he got displaced from the puck too easily for a man of his size. It’s one of those things where I think McCarron remains a strong prospect for Montreal, but I don’t think he’s quite ready for what they’d need him to do at the WJC right now. Unfortunately, this was also his last shot at the tournament. Back off the ledge, though, Habs fans. That game solidified my belief that this forward group may be the best USA has had in about 10 years. Tough roster to crack.
Jack Dougherty (NSH) — A good young defenseman, Dougherty belonged in camp. That said, his youth was a little too noticeable Friday. He had some rough moments out there and never looked terribly comfortable. He’s still eligible for next year and I’d bet he probably makes that team. It’s just a year too soon for him right now.
Team USA has Saturday off while traveling to Kingston, Ont. They’ll play Germany Sunday night in a game that will be streamed live on FASTHockey.com.
If all goes well, I’ll have a post after that game as well.
Thanks to all of the folks who have reached out in the recent weeks asking about the blog (and some who asked to have it brought back) through email and on Twitter. I had no plans to pop back in here after starting at CBS, and while this is only temporary, it was fun to dive into the WJC again. I am so touched that there were people out there that wanted to see more camp coverage. Just be sure to check out our WJC coverage at CBSSports.com, when it gets underway next week after Team USA’s roster is finalized.