Team USA: IIHF World Junior Championships Preview
Team USA opened camp on Sunday in preparation for the IIHF World Junior Championships, which commence on Dec. 26 in Ufa, Russia. 27 of America's best U-20 hockey players have descended upon Tarrytown, New York to compete for 23 available roster spots.
Jacob Trouba, J.T. Miller and goalie John Gibson are the USA's only returnees from a disappointing 2012 squad that failed to medal in Canada. The complete roster can be seen here, courtesy of USA Hockey.
An underdog American team will rely on goalie John Gibson to stand on his head in net if they are to win gold in Russia. The Anaheim Ducks 2011 second round pick has been spectacular for the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers this season, ranking fourth in the league in save percentage (.929) and fifth in goals-against average (2.33) just behind potential Team Canada starters Malcolm Subban and Jordan Binnington.
Gibson rode the bench behind Jack Campbell for Team USA in 2012 but is fully prepared to start this time around. He heads to Russia with the ability to be the tournament's top goalie. For the Americans to medal, he may need to be. Gibson's cause will be helped greatly by fellow WJC vet Jacob Trouba.
Selected ninth overall by the Winnipeg Jets last spring, Trouba will anchor the American blue line. The physical two-way defenseman has excelled this fall as a freshman at the University of Michigan, posting 10 points in his first 15 collegiate appearances. He will see tons of ice time for the Red, White and Blue, especially against elite opposing forwards like Nail Yakupov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Speaking of elite forwards, Team USA has invited five first round picks to camp to fill out their offense. The American forward group is headlined by 2012 third overall pick, Alex Galchenyuk.
Raised in Russia and currently playing his junior hockey in Canada with the OHL's Sarnia Sting, Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee and has elected to play for the United States. The Montreal Canadiens prospect missed almost all of last season following a severe knee injury but remained a top prospect nonetheless.
He currently ranks second in the OHL in points with 61, behind only Team Canada star Ryan Strome. In just 33 games, the top American scoring threat has scored 27 goals and dished out 34 assists. The potential NHL superstar should produce his fair share of highlight reel plays in his parents' home country.
Despite their undeniable star-power, Galchenyuk and the seven other first round picks invited to camp may be out-shined at the World Juniors. The spotlight will likely be hogged by potential 2013 first overall pick Seth Jones.
The son of former NBA player Popeye Jones, Seth is an incredible physical specimen. The 6'4" 206 pound defenseman is off to a hot start in his rookie season with the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks. Jones ranks fifth among WHL defensemen with 28 points in just 31 games. Perhaps more impressively, the 18-year-old Texas native ranks fourth in the league with a plus-27 rating.
Jones will battle with Team Canada's Nathan Mackinnon and Jonathan Drouin for pole position on NHL draft boards throughout the tournament. A strong showing in Ufa could make Jones the first American to be taken with the top pick since Patrick Kane was selected by Chicago in 2007.
Phil Housley, who won a silver medal for Team USA at the 2002 Olympics, will have his work cut out for him as head coach. The Americans find themselves in the tournaments deadly Group B, alongside tournament favorites Canada and Russia.
The Canadians will roll out a dream-team stocked with NHL quality talent made available by the ongoing lockout. It could take a miracle to stop a Canadian squad filled to the brim with elite talent.
Meanwhile the Russian's will be lead by the lethal duo of Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko as they chase gold on home ice.
How will Team USA finish at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships
Upsetting either of the two elite hockey powers would make the trip to Ufa a success, as gold will be very hard to come by.
Team USA will announce their final 23-man roster on December 23. Following the completion of their camp in Tarrytown, NY on Dec. 18, they will travel to Helsinki, Finland for final preparations.
They will play warm-up games against Sweden on Dec. 20 and Finland two days later before making their final cuts and opening the tournament against Germany on Dec. 27.
If the NHL lockout continues, the World Junior Championships will be the highlight of the holiday hockey calendar with a Cinderella Team USA begging the question: "Does the shoe fit?"
They have enough talent to wrestle with international hockey's big guns but it will take a special effort to make this tournament a memorable one.
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