Subtitled: Rochelle, Rochelle: A young hockey team's strange, (hopefully not) erotic journey from (near) Milan (,Michigan) to Minsk. I really had to work for that one.
USA Hockey released their roster for the World U-18 Championships that will take place in two weeks in Belarus. You can see the team here.
I really like the way this team looks, though maybe that's not such a great thing. I was just hoping for a medal from last year's team that took home the gold. I was pretty down this year's World Junior team's chances as well, and that ended up working out okay.
Like most good hockey teams, this year's US team is built from the net outward, starting with goalie Jack Campbell. There's not much more you need to say about Campbell other than that he's won two IIHF gold medals, and the only game he's lost in IIHF international tournaments was in a shootout. It's hard to imagine a goalie keeping up that kind of dominance, but you never know. He's already shown he can be a special player.
The defense is also particularly strong this year, as evidenced by the fact that they didn't feel the need to bring in anyone from outside the NTDP U18 team to strengthen things up. Though the pool of potential additions was pretty thin, with no one really standing out on the U17s and no big names elsewhere--Brandon Archibald comes to mind, but that's probably not a significant enough upgrade over anyone on the roster. The five defensemen on the roster eligible for this year's draft are all projected to go in the first two round of the NHL draft, making this at least one of deepest, most hyped groups the US has ever brought to this tournament. Kevin Clare is the only D from the NTDP U18s not making the trip. He's been playing with the U17s recently.
Last year, it was a deep, speedy group of forwards that really carried the US to gold. This is a pretty deep group, as well. The NTDP U18s were only carrying ten forwards, thanks to a couple discipline problems this year and Michael Mersch is being left at home for the tournament, so there was room to add forwards to the roster. Rocco Grimaldi and Tyler Biggs were called up from the U17 team. They've both earned the spot with a nice year, and an impressive performance at the World U-17 Challenge. This tournament could be a real coming-out-party--even moreso than the U17s--or Grimaldi, since the whole hockey world follows this tournament pretty closely.
Team USA also added Connor Brickley from the USHL, who traveled overseas with the US for a tournament earlier this year and performed well, and OHL forward Austin Watson, who is a potential top 15 draft pick for this summer. There's been rumors that Nick Bjugstad turned down a spot on the team, which are disappointing if true(Update: Turns out that rumor wasn't true and Bjugstad wasn't offered a spot on the team).
Hopefully between Watson, Brandon Saad, Matt Nieto, Rocco Grimaldi, and a bunch of guys that can blast from the bluelien, this group can find a way to score enough goals.
I'll keep trying to stick this team with the kiss of death and suggest that they actually could be the favorites in this tournament. It's not a role that US teams have ever handled particularly well when it comes to international hockey.
Canada is always a wild card in this tournament, since they only take players eliminated from the CHL playoffs. They've already got a lot of good players to choose from, and they'll probably be neck-and-neck with the US again. Russia has the high-end talent at forward to compete with anybody, but it's not hard to come up with a list of similar Russians teams with lots of talent that flamed out in international play. Sweden isn't as strong as they were last year. Finland never quite has the depth to be a serious player. The Czech Republic and Slovakia don't produce players like they used to. No pun intended, but this looks like a golden opportunity for another classic match-up against Canada, and another excellent chance for a medal, possibly gold.