Hello everyone. Along with Chris Dilks later in the week I'm covering the United States National Junior Team Training Camp at Mariucci Arena. The camp runs from today (December 15) through Wednesday (December 18) with an exhibition game Tuesday against Minnesota State.
The 2014 U-20 World Junior Championships begin December 26 and run through January 5, 2014 in Malmo, Sweden.
Due to travel issues - most of the East Coast guys were delayed in getting to Minneapolis - and several players taking part in games the night before, practice was light. It lasted just less than an hour and featured some light drills along with some 3 on 2 rushes. There was also an earlier opportunity for goalie coach David Lassonde to work out with a few players.
Right now camp consists of 29 players vying for spots as the team tries to find a balance of chemistry and talent for the 2014 tournament. It's tough in a short time frame to get the mixture of who should play on the power play and who is more of grinder for the WJC. Both Team USA head coach Don Lucia and General Manager Jim Johannson stated that they would be making cuts prior to heading to Sweden.
"We have the game with Mankato on Tuesday night to maybe get an idea at some of the guys on the bubble. We might not play some guys we obviously know are going to Sweden," Lucia said. "We'll make that decision, but we're going to have to make some cuts after the game Tuesday night because we're not going to take (29 guys)."
Both Lucia and Johannson also made sure to reiterate that the three players invited later - Minnesota State forward Zach Stepan, Colorado College defenseman Jaccob Slavin and Notre Dame forward Vince Hinostroza - are not "forward 16, 17 and defenseman 9." The duo just wanted to make sure all three were healthy.
-Stepan for his part said he was okay after a hit last night. So was Nic Kerdiles after getting his helmet stuck on Colorado College forward Joe Collett's helmet on Friday.
-Kerdiles, whose ten game suspension cost him a chance at playing on the 2013 gold medal winning US team, on what playing in the 2014 World Juniors means to him: "It's my last chance so I want to make this team and want to help this team achieve a gold medal, which is what we've set out to do. I'm going to enjoy the spotlight of playing in a tournament on TV and having all my family and friends able to watch. It's going to be a fun time.
-No jersey numbers in practice, but there were some set lines. 17 year-old Jack Eichel was with Adam Erne and Riley Barber while Michigan freshman Tyler Motte skated with three others. They were his Wolverines teammate J.T. Compher, Tommy DiPauli (Notre Dame) and Henrik Samuelsson (Edmonton Oil Kings - WHL).
-Speaking of Eichel, he's in an interesting position given his age for a Under-20 tournament which showcases the best 19 year-olds as a '96 in a tournament full of '94 borns. Johannson stated that bodywise the Boston University commit is ready while acknowledging this is a different challenge.
"(Eichel) is a dynamic offensive player," he said. "What this camp represents is another challenge for him as a player to show how high of a level he can do that at this stage of his career."
-Lucia on Fasching, the Minnesota freshman, making the Camp roster: "For me it began back in Lake Placid. I thought he had an outstanding camp. He played at a tremendous pace and played physical and has continued to do that for us.
"With this team I don't know if he'll be a power play guy or not, but if he's going to make this team he's going to have to be hard to play against."
-Finally, both Johannson and Lucia reiterated the massive loss USA Hockey suffered with Tim Taylor passing away in April at the age of 71. (I recommend reading Chris Peters' piece on Taylor, who was the architect of so many USA Hockey teams, at United States of Hockey.)
Although he can't be replaced, Johannson said that his presence will ring through every player and coach.
"One of the challenges with this team...and why we have people helping - Tim was such a huge asset but now Don Waddell and Ben Smith and Ryan Martin are watching players - it's hard in our system that is so spread out," Johannson said. "Colleges are playing weekends only. It's hard to get to see all the guys. We need a little bit more eyes on guys and that is why they were at Lake Placid as well."
Lucia added, "The only difference is not having Tim Taylor's vast knowledge. It's something that is missed and will take a while to replace. He had such an intimate knowledge of every player."
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate