Despite the fact that home ice advantage may largely be nixed because Buffalo is so close to Canada, many believe that Team USA will be mild favorites for a repeat gold medal performance in the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championships. If they accomplished that goal, they’d only be the fourth team to win back-to-back golds in the tournament’s 34 year history.
Gare Joyce put together a list of five reasons why Team USA should win and countered with three areas of weakness to boot. I’ll go over each reason, with a few excerpts from his article.
Joyce’s No. 1 reason was returning goalie Jack Campbell (first photo). Campbell came in relief of Mike Lee to help the U.S. team win it all in an overtime thriller against Canada in front of a boisterous Canadian crowd in the last tournament.
I’ll admit that the main reason I spotlighted this segment was to share the amusing anecdote Joyce throws in, though.
1. Goalie Jack Campbell
You have to go back to 2003 for the last time a defending champion brought back a goaltender who was more than a backup on his first trip — Russia brought back Andrei Medvedev, a roly-poly kid who ended up eating himself out of hockey. (As an aside, I sat next to him after a practice and he devoured a family-sized bag of potato chips in no more than five minutes.) But even Medvedev’s name has an asterisk attached to it — he started two consecutive gold-medal games but was pulled from the first one.
Somebody somewhere is making “Medvedev is the Russian Martin Brodeur” jokes right now, I can just sense it.
Campbell is the starting point for experience on Team USA but it runs deep onto the roster. In Lake Placid the U.S. roster features six forwards (Ryan Bourque, Jerry D’Amigo, Chris Kreider, Jeremy Morin, Kyle Palmieri and Jason Zucker) and one defenseman (John Ramage) back from the 2010 championship team. Defenseman Cam Fowler wasn’t in attendance but unless the Anaheim Ducks try to force him into the lineup straight out of the draft (a possibility, however wrong-minded) he’ll also be back.
Which goes along nicely with the fifth point: chemistry, as Joyce points out this fact: ” … at least four D-men from the 2009 U.S. under-17 team will be in the lineup in Buffalo, with at least five forwards from the 2008 under-17 squad.”
Overall, Joyce points to goalie Campbell, experience, speed, physicality and chemistry as the five reasons why the U.S. team should feel good about its chances. Still, nearly every sports team has some weaknesses and Joyce shares three sticking points.
The first two are the biggest issues for the red, white and blue.
1. Sources of scoring
I asked coach Keith Allain what his greatest concern will be going into Buffalo. He answered the question with a question.
2. The middle of the ice
Said one NHL exec in Lake Placid: “I look at center on the U.S. depth chart and wonder who’s going to get the puck to the wingers.”
“Who’s going to score for us?”
So it sounds like the United States team might be a little bit lacking in the “firepower” department. They’ll depend a lot on a beyond-solid group of defensemen and Jack Campbell’s goaltending because the third problem Joyce chose was a lack of a good backup. Joyce points out that the current front-runner is Zane Gothberg, an excellently named but rather green late draft pick of the Boston Bruins.
Despite their flaws, the ’09 version of the US World Juniors team was a blast to watch. We’ll see what kind of group they put on the ice in Buffalo, but fans of American hockey should be very excited about this group as they mature over the next few years. Perhaps the US team’s surprising run to a silver medal will just be the beginning of a great new era in American hockey …