December 04, 2011
Uncle Sam can afford to be selective with who it wants from the Canadian Hockey League.
There's no pretending that annual world junior hockey championship is wholly exempt from the endless CHL-NCAA mud fight. There's speculation Hockey Canada is hesitant to rely on players who went south to play collegiate hockey instead of toiling in major junior and vice-versa with USA Hockey. In each case, both might just be going with whom they know best, although that's tough for a player who goes uninvited to hear. The NCAA talent is also being tested against older competition, while Canadian-based players have to perish the thought of bias, lest it become an excuse.
"USA obviously wants to win like anyone else so they're going to pick the best team," says Ottawa 67's winger Shane Prince, who had a strong showing at USA Hockey's summer development camp. "Whatever they feel is the best team going into the tournament, that's who they're going to take."
Team USA will announce its preliminary roster on Monday night (5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 p.m. PT, NHL Network).
Typically in recent years, 4-6 players from the CHL have made Team USA; there should be plenty of speculation if that persists or even increases this time around.
Here's a quick and dirty look at which CHLers might get a shot at sporting the Stars and Stripes come Boxing Day, when the U.S. opens vs. Denmark.
Emerson Etem, left wing, Medicine Hat Tigers — He shares the Western league lead with 28 goals in 30 games. Etem was not too noticeable on the ice in Buffalo (ahem), but he's matured as a player. It's really only a question of how big his role is going to be. He's one four potential returning U.S. forwards; there's also a chance he could go mano-a-mano with Tigers goalie Tyler Bunz.
"I think (U.S.) coach Dean Blais is looking for a lot of speed up front," Etem said. "It's something that I hope to bring to the club. I played more of a two-way role last year, but I obviously like to use my speed on the PK (penalty kill) as well. Anywhere they put me, I don't mind. I'm just hoping to make it." (Red Deer Advocate)
Jarred Tinordi, defence, London Knights — Big body? Check. He's 6-foot-7 and 218 pounds? Leader with his club team? He's captain of the league-leading Knights. The Americans are deep in defencemen among the 1992- and '93-born age cohort, but with only two defencemen likely back, Michigan's Jon Merrill and North Dakota's Derek Forbort, Tinordi should have a very good chance at sticking.
Jack Campbell, goalie, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds — Thanks for pointing this out, Captain Obvious. He has already been on the team two years in a row.
J.T. Miller, centre, Plymouth Whalers — He has the U.S. national team development program pedigree. He's also a playmaker with enough upper-body strength to keep from getting tossed around like a plastic bag caught in an updraft, always a plus given how competitive the games between the top teams at the world junior. Miller, who's 18, has another year to play in the tournament; like anyone else, he can't take a spot for granted.
Riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in an enigma
Brandon Saad, centre, Saginaw Spirit — There is no question about ability with the power centre. Saad, however, declined an invitation to USA Hockey's summer development camp. He ultimately came out ahead on that count, since he reported to the Chicago Blackhawks and made his NHL debut at age 18 before coming back to Saginaw. The $64,000 question is whether it is worth it to bring in a player who didn't sacrifice part of his summer to come to camp, when so many other players did so unhesitatingly. Could that work against team chemistry?
From Chris Peters:
If the U.S. is interested and Saad is interested, inviting him is a good idea ... He's played at the NHL level, he's physically ahead of the majority of his peers and he's got that all-important international experience.
He probably deserves an invite. If he doesn't get one, I will not be shocked, nor will I disagree with the decision. This is a very difficult situation to predict as there are so many moving parts. As good as Saad is when he's on his game, there's enough depth this year to make up for not having him. With so many complications to his candidacy for the team, I think it'd be understandable if Team USA decided to go in another direction. (United States of Hockey)
The maybe mix
John Gibson, goalie, Kitchener Rangers — Just as there is a Canadian camp touting Bunz to supplant Mark Visentin as the Great White North's No. 1 goaltender, some feel Gibson could be the guy for Uncle Sam instead of Campbell.
The sticking point is USA Hockey has both Campbell and the Cornell Big Red's Andy Iles back from the Buffalo squad, but both are 19. Gibson is having a good first season in the OHL (seventh with a 2.61 average, fourth with a .930 save percentage). It is worth noting that is partially built on the Rangers having a softer strength of schedule. His goaltending partner, Franky Palazzese, has almost identical numbers (2.62, .932). It could come down to Gibson vs. Iles for the No. 2 goalie spot.
Jared Knight, centre, London Knights — USA Hockey invited Knight to its summer camp, easing suspicions that he had been frozen out after choosing major junior over the U.S. national team development program. However, Knight is not having a huge year with London (14 goals, 28 points and 24 games) and apparently did not get ample ice time during exhibition games in the summer in Lake Placid. Knight does have a great motor and sometimes players such as he need a shot to try to make the team at camp.
Stefan Noesen, centre, Plymouth Whalers — The Ottawa Senators will have one of their three first-rounders from June, Sweden's Mika Zibanejad, from June at the tourney. Matt Puempel was passed up by Canada, but Noesen could still make it two. The Plano, Texas, native has a Canadian grandparent, so it's appropriate to apply the term 200-foot player to him. Noesen offers a size and physicality that the 2011 U.S. team lacked and could adapt to a checker's role. He's well-versed in penalty killing since he's done it since his age-16 season with the Whalers.
Shane Prince, left wing, Ottawa 67's — The Ottawa Senators second-rounder had a very good summer camp and is once again a prolific scorer in the OHL with 14 goals and 36 points in 22 games. Prince's offensive skills, his skating and his competitiveness always make him a lot of fast fans wherever he goes. The fact the Senators got him at the 60th overall choice last June might suggest scouts haven't felt the love as much. There could be some questions of whether Prince, at a compact 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, could get off offensively in a world junior on North American-sized ice.
"I think I've done everything I could to earn a spot with their team," Prince says. " I had a good camp in the summer, so we'll have to wait and see.
"I'll play any role. It would definitely be the experience of a lifetime and something I really want to accomplish. I can play a grinding role, I can play an offensive role and I can play a little bit of both if that's what they need."
Vincent Trocheck, centre, Saginaw Spirit — The Pittsburgher is one of a number of centres who fit the poor-man's Crosby mould. Trocheck is indefatigable, plays a thinking man's game and he's a very good faceoff man. The Florida Panthers draft pick is third in the OHL in the unofficial scoring race among players who neither play in the Eastern Conference or with Nail Yakupov (or are Nail Yakupov), with 14 goals and 37 points in 28 games. At the same time, it can be tough for smaller players to stick unless they're in a scorer's role and Trocheck might need another year to reach that plateau.
Michael Houser, goalie, London Knights — Did you see that recent Community episode when Jeff Winger rolled a die and created six alternate timelines? I'm fairly confident that in at least two of those, Houser would have a NHL contract and the favourite to be his country's go-to goalie. He has played the third-most minutes (1,631) of any goalie in the CHL who's eligible for the world junior and been fabulous doing it with a 2.50 average and .926 save percentage for a young Knights team.
Perhaps Houser has just been in the wrong time and wrong place, blocked by other U.S. goalies. Kind of like Community being put on NBC, really. Ironically, the only 19-year-old CHL goalies who've played more minutes than Houser are Tyler Bunz and Moncton's Roman Will. Each is headed to his country's selection camp.
Others could be in the mix. By no means is this is a definitive list. It's more a sampling of opinion compiled by trading e-mails with some astute prospect watchers. Who knows, perhaps the likes of Peterborough Petes captain Austin Watson or Plymouth defenceman Austin Levi might also get an invite. Portland Winterhawks goalie Mac Carruth also went to the summer camp.
The U.S. ran a compact 28-player camp last year, but it is worth noting the size of the camp this year is yet to be determined. Team USA's camp begins Dec. 17 in Camrose, Alta., with its first exhibition on Dec. 20 vs. Russia in Red Deer.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photos: OHL Images, The Canadian Press).