2017 World Juniors: USA vs. Russia preview; what we should expect to learn

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The U.S. National Junior Team has started the World Junior Championship off right with a pair of wins. That was to be expected with Latvia and Slovakia offering the least resistance to start the tournament. Now the Americans face their toughest test, with an even bigger one looming Saturday.

Team USA meets Russia Thursday (3:30 p.m., NHL Network) in a preliminary-round game that at least has major seeding implications. A win for the U.S. means they can finish no lower in second in Group B regardless of the result against Canada on New Year’s Eve.

More than that, however, Thursday’s game is a chance for this U.S. squad to prove itself against a team that has been one of the most consistent medal threats at the World Juniors. Six straight medals for Russia, with four of them under current head coach Valeri Bragin, shows that they know how to win in this tournament, even if only one of those medals is gold. There’s a lot more than luck going into Russia’s frequent trips to the semifinals.

Russia has been a thorn in the Americans’ side in this tournament for decades, too, but particularly so over the last few years as Team USA enters this contest on a five-game losing streak. Records in previous years may not matter with the high rate of turnover when it comes to players. That said, each of the last three tournaments ending at the hands of Russia has not been by mistake and often feel a little too familiar.

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2017 World Juniors: 5 takeaways from USA’s win over Slovakia; Thompson, Roslovic, Keller shine

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In their second game of the tournament, Team USA looked more like a squad that had settled in. After an easy, but somewhat sloppy win over Latvia, the Americans took the game right to Slovakia and earned a 5-2 win to improve to 2-0 in the tournament.

There was a lot to clean up from that shaky opener, but it looks like the U.S. put the work in to do it. Execution was far better, the pace was faster and the Americans were doing a better job of finishing plays and staying disciplined. They might have taken their foot off the gas in the third period a bit, but overall, it was a superior performance for a team that has its toughest tests ahead of them still.

Team USA got goals from Tanner Laczynski, Colin White, Tage Thompson, Charlie McAvoy and Troy Terry, while getting pretty much the entire lineup involved in the offensive attack, pouring 50 shots on Slovakian goalie Matej Tomek.

Now the U.S. has to get some rest and prepare for an important game against Russia Thursday. Team USA has that unfortunate short turnaround, going from playing at night to going against a well-rested opponent coming off of an off day in the afternoon. The young players are resilient, but that does up the difficulty against an opponent that has had Team USA’s number in this tournament of late.

With a win over Russia, USA would finish no lower than second in Group B, while setting up a chance to win the group against host Canada on New Year’s Eve.

The good news for the Americans is that they’re coming off of a game where they established their game far better than in their first try.

Here are some takeaways, highlights, stats and standout players from Team USA’s big win over Slovakia.

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2017 World Juniors: 5 things to know about USA win over Latvia; White, Keller, Greenway among standouts

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The U.S. opened the World Junior effort with a 6-1 win over Latvia, starting the tournament on the right foot in the standings, but there will be a fair amount to work on before the team gets into the meat of its preliminary round schedule.

Taking advantage of a Latvian team that had quite a bit of defensive discipline, but a lack of precision offensively, the U.S. skill shone through. That said, it was far from a pristine effort, which is more or less to be expected in the tournament’s opening game. It gives the staff some time to make adjustments and for the players to settle in to their surroundings and gel a bit more with their teammates.

I don’t think there was much wrong with the effort or competitiveness of the team, but some of the decisions and Team USA’s inability to establish and set the pace the game needed to be played at were among the concerning takeaways from this one.

You want to start off with a win and avoid any traps, which the U.S. did, but it’s just fair to expect them to play a lot better on Wednesday against Slovakia.

Here are some takeaways and some thoughts on some thoughts on the notable player performances.

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2017 World Juniors: How to watch Team USA; What you need to know

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It’s that special time of year. There’s nothing quite like spending time with family and friends, eating good food, exchanging gifts, relaxing and then quickly hurrying everyone out of your house so you can watch the World Junior Championship.

It all begins Monday with Sweden and Denmark playing the opening game in Montreal at 1 p.m. ET before the U.S. takes on Latvia in its World Junior opener at 3:30.

I’ve already got a primer on the U.S. roster that will be looking to improve on a bronze medal finish last season, but here’s a look at the tournament ahead for Team USA, as well as where to find it on TV.

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2017 World Juniors: Team USA roster finalized; Krys cut, all three goalies stay

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The U.S. National Junior Team has been finalized ahead of the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. As expected, the roster will feature the maximum of 23 players with three goalies, seven defensemen and 13 forwards.

Defenseman Chad Krys was the final player released from camp, making him the second would-be returnee to be cut from this team after Alex DeBrincat was let go two days earlier.

With the team finalized, some thoughts on the roster as a whole…

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2017 World Juniors: Team USA releases DeBrincat, Brown; One cut left to make among skaters

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USA Hockey announced Thursday morning that its preliminary roster for the U.S. National Junior Team has been trimmed by two players. Erie Otters sniper Alex DeBrincat (CHI) and big Windsor Spitfires center Logan Brown (OTT) have been released from the camp. There is still one skater left to cut and the U.S. brass has to decide if they will carry three goalies or not.

Head coach Bob Motzko had said multiple times that the hope was to have the team decided before the final exhibition game on Friday night against the Czech Republic. That game was supposed to serve more as a dress rehearsal than an evaluation game, but more time is needed.

By the way, the U.S. won their first exhibition game going into the tournament, topping Switzerland 4-3. The result is irrelevant to the main story, however, which is that the U.S. roster is cut down.

Every time a player gets cut, there’s usually a pretty wide reaction. It’s going to get more engagement than almost anything outside of a team playing in a gold medal game. This is the kind of stuff people love to talk about and debate.

The general reaction in regards to DeBrincat in particular being cut is that it’s the “same old USA Hockey” leaving a scorer at home. But the way this roster is structured makes this situation unique to previous ones.

Here’s why…

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2017 World Juniors: Team USA Notebook — USA-SUI Exhibition preview; Roster thoughts; Where’s the WJC Buzz?

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The U.S. National Junior Team has crossed the border after their five-day camp in Buffalo. Wednesday also marks a crucial evaluation day as the team looks to pare down its roster from 26 to 23, or possibly even 22 if they end up deciding to cut a goalie.

Team USA will be taking on Switzerland in Oshawa tonight at 7 p.m. ET. Unfortunately, it does not sound like any live stream will be available for the game, which is going to makes analyzing Team USA’s decisions a bit more difficult for those of us not there. However, the lack of availability of the game is another example of something I’ve noticed about this World Juniors in particular, which I’ll get into a bit more below.

The big news of the day, however, is that the U.S. roster could be decided as soon as tonight. The team hopes to make the cuts after the game so that they can go into their final pre-tournament contest Friday with their roster. Barring injury, illness or a decision they can’t just bring themselves to make yet, at least three players could learn their fate. The hope is to have the decision made by Thursday.

Team USA has typically brought 13 forwards and seven defensemen to the tournament, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they go 12 and eight instead. I don’t think it’s overly likely, but it is possible. They also have the option of bringing three goalies with them, but don’t have to take all three. U.S. GM Jim Johannson told Mike Morreale of NHL.com that it hasn’t been decided yet if the team will bring all three or send one home. That probably won’t be official until after the final exhibition.

The picture becomes clearer within the next 24 hours, either way. So let’s get into some notes. UPDATE: Includes official lineup for tonight’s pre-WJC game:

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