By: Dan Shulman
The United States will take the ice next week in Canada for the 2017 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships.
Playing in Group B in Toronto’s Air Canada Center, the U.S. will be pitted against some of the top teams from Europe as well as the host nation in the group stages. The Americans are coming off a Bronze-medal performance at last year’s edition of the tournament in Finland.
The U.S. finished second in Group A behind Sweden, including impressive group stage victories over Canada, Switzerland, and Denmark. After knocking-off the Czech Republic in commanding fashion during the quarterfinals, the U.S. was ousted from the tournament by Russia. In the Bronze-medal game, the Americans defeated Sweden, 8-3, to avenge their defeat in the group stage.
This year, an almost entirely new cast of America’s best young talent sets its sights on making the team, seven of which play for Boston University. Sophomore Charlie McAvoy donned the Stars & Stripes last year and was voted assistant captain for this year’s tournament.
The six other BU players on the team include defenseman Chad Krys, goaltender Jake Oettinger, along with forwards Kieffer Bellows, Clayton Keller, Patrick Harper, and Jordan Greenway.
The captain for the United States is University of Wisconsin sophomore Luke Kunin. In 16 games with the badgers this season, Kunin has 11 goals and six assists. He also leads the team with 59 shots on goal.
Down the road from McAvoy and BU is the home site of the second assistant captain – Boston College’s Colin White. Despite a mass-exodus of many BC players, White opted to remain with the Eagles and has been prolific yet again this year. The sophomore has scored 10 goals and added seven assists in 18 games this season.
White and Kunin are expected to lead the American offense along with former BC Eagle and current Kitchener Rangers forward Jeremy Bracco. On defense, it will be McAvoy and Harvard freshman Adam Fox as the headliners.
The biggest question surrounding this team is who will be starting in goal. The U.S. brought three goalies into camp, all of which will likely remain with the team for the duration of the tournament. Oettinger, Boston College’s Joseph Woll, and London Knights’ net-minder Tyler Parsons make up the trio of shot-stoppers for the Americans.
While Woll and Oettinger will be able to play again next season, Parsons is in his final year of World Junior eligibility. Parsons played the entire first exhibition game for the Red, White & Blue, stopping 21 of 24 shots in a 4-3 victory over Switzerland.
Behind the bench for the World Junior Team is St. Cloud State Head Coach Bob Motzko. Over the past two season, Motzko has led the Huskies to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths including earning a top seed in the West Regional last season.
St. Cloud State has also been one of the most disciplined teams in the nation over that span, with this year being no different. The Huskies are one of just two teams in the nation to average under 10 minutes in penalties per game this season (9.55, Bemidji State – 9.14). Motzko will likely implement his disciplined style of hockey during the upcoming tournament.
Motzko opted to select just one St. Cloud player to the preliminary roster, taking defenseman Jack Ahcan. The nod is well-deserved as Ahcan has 13 points (3G, 10A) in 15 games for the Huskies this season.
Another big storyline following the U.S. Team is the surprise dismissal of forward Alex DeBrincat. With 60 points in 28 games for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, DeBrincat failed to make a major impact in camp and was dismissed by Coach Motzko.
For the U.S., the group stage gets underway next Monday against Latvia followed by games against Slovakia and Russia. The group stage concludes with a New Year’s Eve matinee against Canada.
Goaltender – NONE. Teams are allowed to keep three goaltenders and there’s no real reason to let one of the U.S. shot-stoppers lose this year. At the very least, keeping both Woll and Oettinger will give the duo valuable experience for next year. But if one is to go, it would likely be Woll.
Defense – Ryan Lindgren OR Joseph Cecconi. With eight defensemen remaining in camp, six of which are in their final year of eligibility, Motzko might elect to cut a player USA Hockey plans on bringing back next year. If so, Lindgren would likely be the choice. The Minnesota Gophers’ defender has underwhelmed this season with three points in 15 games to go with his 47 PIM. Lindgren has failed to generate much offensively, only ripping nine shots on goal.
If Motzko were to base his cuts more toward talent, Joseph Cecconi might be the odd-man out. With just a solitary point and a -2 rating in 16 games for Michigan this season, Cecconi has not been at his best. He has scored no goals and only eight total points in 58 career games. The defensively stout Cecconi may find himself sent packing at the most and reduced to the seventh defenseman at the very least.
Forwards – NONE. The U.S. is already down to 13 forwards and no more cuts are necessary. As for the odd-man out, it looks like it could be Boston University’s Kieffer Bellows. It’s honestly a surprise the BU freshman lasted so long in camp and even survived the first roster cuts. Up and down the list of forwards, its clear that there is an abundance of talent ranging from the best offensive players in the NCAA, Canadian Juniors, and even the American Hockey League. Bellows was a healthy scratch for BU in its last two games of the semester. With just five points, the freshman has struggled to adjust to life in college hockey. It’s unlikely we’ll be seeing much of Bellows in this year’s tournament.