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World Juniors: Building chemistry a constant theme in U.S. camp

With the start of the World Junior Championship in Montreal less than ten days away, chemistry was a common theme around Team USA's second day of camp at Boston University's Walter Brown Arena on Wednesday.

Dylan Larkin
Dylan Larkin
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

BOSTON -- On the ice, Wednesday's second practice of the 2015 United States National Junior Team Camp was all about power play and penalty kill situations.

But off it, there was another common theme amongst the 30 players in the locker room. Chemistry.

The majority of the roster participated in USA Hockey's Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. in August and that experience is key, but the makeup of the team will continue to develop through Friday night's exhibition with No. 1 Boston University at Walter Brown Arena and pre-tournament games on Sunday and next Tuesday in Kingston, Ontario.

"We saw certain chemistry that was there from Lake Placid," head coach Mark Osiecki said, "and we're trying to carry some of that over. ... But we have to find some (more) chemistry. We can practice forever, but we do need to get into some game situations to be able to have that setting where it will sort itself out a little bit."

In a short tournament such as the World Junior Championship, productive special teams units and a comforting team environment, a sense of chemistry prove to be vital.

Chemistry is even more important on this year's team with Boston College sophomore defenseman Steve Santini's injury still a question mark. The roster is extremely deep, featuring two other returners in fellow BC blue liner Ian McCoshen and Denver's Will Butcher.

Santini is still in the recovery stage from a wrist injury although he has returned to the ice for the first two days of camp, but his situation makes roster-cutting decisions even more difficult.

"It's outstanding. You just don't know because there are ten players, but the competition is so high," Osiecki said.

"We're just trying to get (Santini) healthy ... but you know what he brings to the table. The thing you can't teach is leadership skills, and he's been awesome so far in the locker room, on the bench and on the ice."

With two days of camp complete, the players are starting to see camaraderie building.

BC freshman Noah Hanifin, who is projected to be drafted behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in the upcoming NHL Draft in June, is one of five Eagles on the preliminary World Junior roster. He sees the team quickly coming together very well but having some familiar support along the way has certainly helped.

"It's been going great," the Norwood, Mass. native and St. Sebastian's School product Hanifin said. "I think we're starting to gel a lot more. We're starting to get a little close and bond. ... I've grown great relationships with Santini and McCoshen (as they are both defensemen) so far, so it's made me a lot more comfortable."

Only Michigan's Zach Werenski, a fellow U.S. World Junior defenseman, is a younger player in Division 1 hockey this season, but the connections both have made certainly don't make them feel like 17-year-olds.

Hanifin's BC team finished the first half of the season with a 5-1 win over Michigan on Saturday, and there as many Wolverines as Eagles on the preliminary World Junior roster. Freshman forward Dylan Larkin finds the previous relationships made, like playing against future teammates, very beneficial.

"Even from the National Team Development Program, growing up through camps in the summer and festivals, you know a lot of guys here," the Waterford, Mich. native and Detroit Red Wings first-round draftee said. "I think there's a lot of chemistry (because) most of the lines are from the Lake Placid tournament where the scores kind of speak for themselves with chemistry and offense."

As Osiecki said, special teams are such an important part of today's game so Team USA went to work in both facets on Wednesday after a very competitive, physical opening day. The opening two sessions, as per usual, will pay dividends in building the team together as time moves along.

"They looked a little bit tired at the end. The pace of practice and the length of practice were a little bit long today," Osiecki said. "They competed very high but the 4-on-4 pace dropped off a little bit, but you can still see what guys can do."

The team continues to push their way towards the ultimate destination this week on the BU campus, as Montreal is less than ten days. Tomorrow's practice session from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. is the team's last two-hour block before seeing game action Friday against the Terriers.