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U.S. WJC: New England connections, Wilson talks plans for UMass exhibition

Cuts are still to be made, but there is sure to be a heavy New England flavor to the U.S. National Junior Team when it takes the ice for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

Rena Laverty

BOSTON -- Cuts are still to be made, but there is sure to be a New England flavor to the U.S. National Junior Team when it takes the ice for the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship a week from Saturday in Helsinki, Finland.

The preliminary camp roster includes three Massachusetts natives, five players from Hockey East, and three Boston University commits, all of whom are certainly enjoying the camp based at BU’s Agganis Arena.

Defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Fortunato are representing the current Terriers on the U.S. roster. Having camp in their home arena has definitely been comforting for the first-time World Junior prospects.

"Being at BU has helped me especially because I’m very comfortable here being my new home," McAvoy, a freshman, said. "As far as the teammates and the faces, I’ve pretty much seen everybody at one point or another, so it makes it a lot easier."

McAvoy has been paired with future Terrier blueliner Chad Krys on several occasions this week. The two have played together in the past, on the gold medal-winning team at last year’s World U-18 Championship, and were excited to do so again.

"What don’t you like about Chad? I’ve known him for a while, grown up playing with him and kind of gone through all this stuff together," McAvoy said. "We’ve kind of just helped each other figure it out along the way. He’s a great skater, very smart player. … It was awesome playing with him, and I think we complemented each other very well."

Three Bruins prospects were also in the mix this week, with Harvard’s Ryan Donato and Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork among them. The two skated together on the second and third days of camp, and looked strong.

"We know each other from the development camp the past two years, so we developed a little chemistry there and became pretty good friends," Bjork said of Donato, who is on father Ted’s bench with the Crimson for the first time this season. "It’s nice to be playing with him here, for sure."

In fact, Bjork scored the only goal of an organized scrimmage during the back half of Thursday morning's practice. Wilson again used some different combinations during the session while working on special teams play, with Donato and Bjork on Christian Dvorak’s wings.

Donato grew up in nearby Scituate and is in his first season playing for his father Ted, the Crimson head coach.

Ryan's vast knowledge of the local hockey scene has made it easy to make connections, and continue others, during the camp. His comfort this week was definitely helpful in easing nerves that may have been present.

"It’s only a mile and a half away from my school, so it’s pretty cool," said Donato. "A lot of the guys are local too, so that’s also pretty cool. Playing with (BC’s) Casey Fitzgerald, and a lot of the Boston guys you have connections with from the beginning. Every single guy is a great guy, down to earth."

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With three full days of camp down, head coach Ron Wilson has been impressed with some of the younger talent on display. Forward Clayton Keller, one of the aforementioned future Terriers, is one player who has stood out.

"The first two days, I didn't have him on a line you'd say would really give him a chance, and he was the best player on the ice on the first day," Wilson said. "I’ve been trying to break him in and play him with some other lines."

Keller will have even more of an opportunity to impress USA Hockey brass during tomorrow night’s exhibition game at UMass, as Auston Matthews and Alex DeBrincat will not play.

Wilson said both have secured spots on the roster, so he will use the extra room to dress all nine defensemen in the final tuneup game before moving camp to Finland this weekend.

"Matthews and DeBrincat are definitely on our team (and) they don’t have anything to prove in the game," Wilson said. "I want to play all the defensemen because it's too hard to take someone out who deserves a chance to play. I've got to give them all an opportunity to play tomorrow."

Coach Mark Osiecki did not make cuts from last year’s roster until the exhibition game at BU, so the same will hold true entering tomorrow night’s contest. Wilson expressed his thoughts about the matchup following the final practice of camp at Agganis.

"We’re going to have a couple tough decisions to make, but that’s what the exhibition game is for," Wilson said. "UMass is not definitely a world power. Even in Hockey East, they’re not at the top of the list, so we have to take the game with a grain of salt."

Friday's pre-game morning skate will take place down Commonwealth Avenue, at BU’s Walter Brown Arena.