If there's one fundamental rule to life that I hold above others, it's that you shouldn't pay attention to what people say, you only pay attention to what they do. More than a few people last Friday, pointed out the irony of USA Hockey holding a press conference to spew platitudes about how much the game has grown in the US while awarding a second straight World Juniors tournament to Buffalo.
And as much as similar platitudes are made about how much the talent level has grown in the United States over the past however many years, actions clearly state that those in charge at USA Hockey simply don't believe that to be the case. The roster announced today reeks of fear. The message is that the US doesn't have the depth and talent to match up player-for-player with the best in the world. They can't put together a third or fourth line that can control play against the third or fourth line of Canada or Russia. Their only hope is to luck into a lead and play ugly enough hockey to hang onto it. That strategy has worked a few times for them. Most of the time it doesn't.
So maybe what I'm most disappointed in is my own naivete. Surely this was the year, I proclaimed last week, that the available talent was so good, so overwhelming that we couldn't possibly get the same old, same old. Not after two straight quarterfinal flameouts in which the US fell behind early and half their roster was a liability in helping them catch up. Nope. The US team is still the plucky underdog that can occasionally pull off the big upset, but is no guarantee to be around at the end of the tournament, even if that has become a self-fulfilling prophecy at this point.
Once again, we'll break things down by positions.
I was all prepared to defend last night's news that Jeremy Bracco and Conor Garland weren't going to be invited to the camp. It was tough to leave them out, but the US was loaded down the right wing with Brock Boeser, Nick Schmaltz, Alex Tuch, and Jack Roslovic, and a left-hander that has excelled on the right side in Kyle Connor. Ctrl + A and DEL.
Leaving Bracco and Garland off the roster for those guys is completely understandable. Leaving them off for these guys..
Hitchcock and Bjork fit the profile of the type of guy that seems to populate the US WJC line-up every year, but I think, or at least hope, that with so much depth available this year, the US tries to put together a line-up that can score from anywhere, rather than relying on just one or two lines and hoping the bottom two can just get to the next shift.
Which is to say nothing of the fact that Tuch, Connor, and Roslovic weren't picked either. As roster decisions go, this ranks right up there with the US trying to outsmart everyone by picking Jim Fraser over Bobby Ryan in the 2007 tournament.
Everyone was quick to claim some sort of USA Hockey conspiracy against Bracco when he wasn't picked because of the way he left Boston College. I really don't think that was the case. Five other kids that broke college commitments were picked for this group. They just didn't think Bracco was capable of playing the "not scoring goals" role that they so covet, which is almost worst. If you want to talk about a getting screwed by USA Hockey politics, it was Kyle Connor, who was absolutely deserving of a spot on this team, but has always had a strained relationship with USA Hockey.
Ironically, the two forwards picked that didn't make my preliminary guess at the roster--Kieffer Bellows and Ryan Donato-- were two that I wasn't all that upset about, relatively speaking. If it was a zero-sum choice between Kieffer Bellows and Kyle Connor or Ryan Donato and Alex Tuch, obviously I'd take the latter in both. But there were four or five other forwards I'd swap out before either of them.
I like the idea of taking Bellows and capitalizing on the amazing chemistry he's shown with Clayton Keller so far this year. Donato is a kid that stepped into a big role on a very good college hockey team and has played well. Those are justifiable.
I don't know. We'll see how the final roster shakes out, but this group is a helluva lot less exciting than the one I projected. Either the top two lines are going to have to score a lot or the bottom two lines will have to greatly out-perform expectations. Otherwise, goals are going to be in scarce supply, which is very worrisome because...
The Carolina Hurricanes said they still haven't made a final decision on releasing Noah Hanifin for the tournament. It's not like Hanifin needs to compete for his roster spot with Brandon Fortunato at the pre-tournament camp, so they can afford to wait until right before the tournament. Let's hope they do because this group doesn't look pretty.
My feelings on the group depend on who makes the final roster. Cut Fortunato and Belpedio and I'm not excited about the defensive group, but I just shrug my shoulders and say that was the best they could do with what they had. USA Hockey's love affair with NTDP alums makes me fear that won't be the case though. Experience is worth something, but it shouldn't be everything.
As expected here, with Tyler Parsons added to give them four goalies to practice with. We'll see. Nobody seems to have played well enough to guarantee themselves playing time. It should make for a competitive camp since the starting job should be wide open.