Team USA head coach Phil Housley was expected to cut one forward and two defenders today to finalize his roster for the IIHF World Junior Championships in Russia, which begin on Dec. 26. However, the American coach has opted to stall on his final cuts in the wake of a 5-1 loss to Finland in the team's final pre-tournament exhibition.
A full-strength squad was deployed for the game in Finland after Team USA beat Sweden two days earlier with six of their best players scratched. Today's lineup was expected to be very similarly to the one that will open the World Junior Championships against Germany on Dec. 27.
The disappointing result against Finland has raised major questions regarding the roster.
The team looked out of sync offensively, failing to sustain pressure in the enemy zone due to numerous errant passes. A number of quality chances off the rush were not enough to overcome the Fins.
Though the Americans produced the better chances early on, with two of the best the coming short-handed from Mario Lucia and Blake Pietila, Finland struck first on a slapper from Robert Leino.
The Americans got little help from the refs, who failed to award Rocco Grimaldi the tying goal a few minutes later. The University of North Dakota winger knocked in a rebound resulting from a Jacob Trouba rocket, but it was incorrectly believed to have struck the crossbar.
A silent second period gave way to a high-scoring third. The Finnish offense kicked it up a notch with four third period goals, including one from elite prospect Aleksander Barkov.
Blake Pietila put away Team USA's only goal three minutes and 13 second into the third to make the score 3-1, but it was not enough to stop the bleeding.
Though bright spots for Team USA were hard to come by, Housley will be pleased with the way his two top defenders played. 2012 World Junior veteran and Winnipeg Jets prospect Jacob Trouba was excellent, playing a heavy physical game and contributing offensively.
Seth Jones was equally spectacular. The talented young American is making a strong case to become the first overall pick in next spring's draft. He could be the first American to earn the honor since Patrick Kane was drafted number one by the Blackhawks in 2007.
Defenseman Brady Skjei, Patrick Sieloff and forward Jim Vesey were scratched for the tilt, presumably as favorites to be cut following the game. However, the loss may give them hope of playing in Russia.
USA Hockey has announced that the final roster will be released at 3 a.m. ET on Sunday.