I had originally planned to make this all one post, but each section is big enough that they can stand as their own post. Next week, USA Hockey will announce the players that will attend their World Junior Selection Camp, to select the team that will defend last year's gold medal. This is my take on which players USA Hockey should be selecting for their camp, and their final roster.
Here's a look at the field of candidates in goal.
.Returning players: Jack Campbell
Invite to Camp: Andy Iles, Mac Carruth
Depending on how you look at it, this is either the easiest, or most difficult spot to project. Jack Campbell as the starter is fairly obvious. Picking the back-up is a different story. Obviously the hope is that Campbell continues his brilliance in international play and the back-up spends the entire tournament on the bench. But Campbell has struggled at times this season, and you never know what can happen in a tournament like this. Last year, it looked like the US would be entirely reliant on Mike Lee, but it was Campbell that stepped up in the championship game to win the gold medal.
I see five pretty legitimate candidates for that back-up spot. It was hard enough narrowing it down to the two that would compete at the selection camp, let alone picking a favorite for the job. I went with Iles because of his international experience, and he's not having a bad freshman season at Cornell so far. Carruth is a bit of a darkhorse, but he was my other pick because he's having an excellent season in Portland so far. From there, I think USA Hockey has to look at who plays the best at the selection camp. If Campbell falters at all, they'll somebody hot to come in and settle things down.
Zane Gothberg, Brandon Maxwell, and Michael Houser were the three others I seriously considered. With Gothberg, I certainly have a great amount of respect for the USHL, but I'd be concerned about a player, especially at such a key position, making the jump from the USHL to playing in the World Juniors, especially when Gothberg hasn't exactly been dominating the league this year. There's no denying his talent, but this tournament is played one month from now, not one year or five years down the road, and right now, all the other candidates have better save percentages in tougher, or comparable leagues.
Maxwell has a lot of things going for him. Maturity is always an important asset for goalies, and he's the only serious candidate from the '91 birth year. He also has a lot of international experience, having played for the NTDP. The down side is I'm always a little skeptical of a goalie whose best looking statistic is his record. Maxwell has a lot of wins this year, but is 18th in the OHL in goals against average.
Houser is a wild card. He's a kid that is off most people's radars, but is putting together a very nice season with the London Knights.
As for the others, Gibson and Mahalak are two of the highest rated goalies from the '93 group. Usually, USA Hockey likes grooming a back-up goalie for the future, but that's less of an issue this year, since Campbell will be available next year as well. And even if his crazy fantasies come true and he's an NHL regular by next year, Iles, Carruth, Gothberg, and Houser would all still be available.
Adam Murray is eligible and has played valiantly for USA Hockey in the past, but he's been relegated to a back-up role at Denver this season, and just hasn't played well enough to merit serious consideration.
Final Roster Choices: Jack Campbell, Mac Carruth