International Ice Hockey Federation

Golden demands

Golden demands

U.S. expectations high despite recent drought

Published 25.04.2017 09:17 GMT-4 | Author Ryan O'Leary
Golden demands
TORONTO, CANADA - December 26: Team USA's Erik Foley #14 and Jordan Greenway #12 during the playing of their national anthem during preliminary round action at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
At first, it took the United States 28 years to stand atop of the podium at the World Junior Championship in 2004.

There were another five years when all Team USA could do was look at their northern neighbours adorned in gold, before winning the 2010 tournament. Then another title in 2013 from arguably the best team the U.S. has ever assembled.

Yes, in the past seven years the country has turned itself from an ‘also ran’ to a serious title contender every year.

Expectations are consistently high.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the last three years have been wildly disappointing for the U.S. – a pair of fifth-place finishes before salvaging a bronze medal in Finland last year just isn’t enough for hockey’s newest powerhouse.

Unwavering, Team USA has a remedy for its current crisis of success – it will lean on a strong leadership group and a core of players that won U18 gold together in the U.S. National Team Development Program.

“We’ve got five medals in the last 10 tournaments – two of them gold. The expectation is to win,” said first-time USA head coach Bob Motzko, who was an assistant coach in the 2014 edition.

“USA Hockey and all the organizations throughout the country have done a tremendous job building our talent level and you saw that by the difficult decisions we made with our roster. The expectation is to win and that’s the motivation.”

This year’s alternate captains are defenceman and Boston University product Charlie McAvoy, and his Boston College rival, forward Colin White.

McAvoy and White make up two of the seven returners from last year’s bronze medal team and they are confident that their experience will benefit this campaign.

“I think we’re hungry,” White began. “We won a medal, but it’s not the medal we wanted. We want gold and because of how close we got last year maybe we want it a little more this year.”

The third member of Team USA’s leadership group is forward Luke Kunin. This is his first World Junior tournament, but he is no stranger to responsibility.

The Minnesota Wild draftee was named captain of his Badger team at the beginning of the season and the first sophomore to receive that honour in 41 years at Wisconsin. The St. Louis native is not just about leadership – heading into the break, he leads his Badgers team with 11 goals in the team’s first 16 games of the season.

“I like to think I’m always the hardest working guy in the room and someone that can take charge when moments call for it,” said Kunin.

“It’s always an honour to represent your country and to be part of the leaders in this room is something very special to me.”

Adding to his experience, Kunin was also the captain of the 2015 United States team that won gold at the U18 World Championship.

“Winning [that tournament] just shows that we can win as a group. Every guy in this room, whether they were on those U-18 teams or not, they know that we have the guys to win,” added Kunin.

This year, Kunin is joined by 10 other members of that 2015 team. It’s one of the most experienced team to ever represent the United States at a World Junior tournament and USA brass is excited by its construction.

“This is a talented, versatile group of players that has found success across all levels of hockey,” said Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations and the general manager of the 2017 U.S. National Junior Team.

“There is depth at every position and we feel each of these players can fit the style of hockey Coach Motzko first implemented at our National Junior Evaluation Camp last August.”

Where the U.S. is most scary is the forward position. Of the 13 attackers, six of them are first-round picks, including the dynamic Jeremy Bracco who is a Maple Leafs product.

Bracco, who plays for the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League, opened this season with a 26-game point streak and has 51 points in just 27 games.

Bracco is joined by Clayton Keller (one of six Boston University Terriers on this team), who is a dynamic playmaker in his own right.

At 5’10” and roughly 172-lbs, Keller has drawn comparisons in size and skill to Patrick Kane. Hailing from the St. Louis area, Keller is a first round pick in his own right, taken seventh overall last year by Arizona.

He’s scoring at a torrid pace in NCAA play, potting 15 points in his first 10 games this season.

Other forwards to watch include the experienced alternate captain Colin White, Kiefer Bellows, the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows, and Jack Roslovic, who is cutting his teeth and gaining important experience in the AHL this season for the Manitoba Moose.

Motzko has indicated that he’ll play a quick game in order to take advantage of this embarrassment of riches.

“We want to play fast, attacking style of hockey,” Motzko continued. “I couldn’t really compare it to previous groups. We’re focused on the guys we have and the style we want to play.”

That’s not to say the back-end will be neglected or should be ignored. There’s the aforementioned McAvoy who is joined by another blue-chip prospect in Caleb Jones. He’s the younger brother of Columbus Blue Jacket defenseman Seth Jones.

After beating Latvia 6-1 to open the tournament, Team USA continue its title push against Slovakia on 28th December, before playing other Group B opponent Russia the following day.

The biggest game – the one that is always circled – comes against Canada on New Year’s Eve. This fiercest of rivalries is shaping up to be another classic and a likely determinant for first place in Group B heading into the knock out round.

Motzko says this team will win if it focuses on one thing: coming together as a team, accepting the roles they’ve been given and uniting around one purpose.

Drought be damned, the U.S. is out to change recent history.


Back to Overview