Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Know Your Country: U.S. Junior National Team

It should be seen as a true honor for the Engineers to have the opportunity to take on the USA's junior team. They typically face a college team in preparation for the WJC, and this year, RPI is that team.

Let's not fool ourselves as to what will likely happen in this game. RPI will be taking on what is essentially a team of some of the best young players in all of college hockey. It's not a collegiate all-star team per se, but it does feature some amazing talent from top to bottom, and a number of guys who already have one gold medal around their necks from last season. The Engineers, in all likelihood, will not win this game. Nor is it terribly important that they do.

Still, this game will feature some dream matchups. Chase Polacek trying to score on Jack Campbell. Allen York looking to stone Ryan Bourque and Jerry D'Amigo. And from the Engineers' perspective, it will be another opportunity to face down against a difficult team - a learning experience going forward.

When this game was announced, it was thought to have the intrigue of Jerry D'Amigo playing against his own team. It's no longer about that, but instead it will be an opportunity for Jerry to play on his old turf, in front of his RPI fans, one last time.

Come on out to the Field House this Sunday afternoon. It won't be a game for cheering - unless you're a Canadian, I'm sure you want to see the team the Engineers are playing against succeed - but it will certainly be an exciting look at some of the best young players in the nation, many of whom will be starring in the NHL in short order.

Without further ado, a look at the team ready to defend its gold medal in Buffalo. They open their training camp at Houston Field House on Friday, looking to pare down to 2 goaltenders, 7 defensemen, and 13 forwards by the middle of next week (meaning 3 defensemen and 4 forwards will be cut).

Goaltenders

G Jack Campbell (Windsor, OHL)
6'2", 182 - 12-9-0, 3.68, .887
One of the heroes of the 2010 gold medal victory, Campbell, who hails from Port Huron, Mich., originally committed to Michigan before opting to cross the Detroit River. Campbell has struggled numbers-wise this season in the OHL, but he was always the obvious goaltending choice for this team given the way he played in last year's tournament as a 17-year-old. Though he was ostensibly the backup to St. Cloud State's Mike Lee, seeing less than 40% of the time in net, he nonetheless put up a 2.54 GAA and .923 save percentage during the tournament, most importantly coming on in relief for Lee in the gold medal game. The 11th overall draft pick (1st round) by the Dallas Stars in 2010, Campbell will need to be solid in net again for the USA.

G Andy Iles (Cornell, ECAC)
5'9", 180 - 2-3-1, 2.38, .907
Certainly one of the more interesting names on the roster from the Engineers' perspective is the one player who will be making frequent return trips to Houston Field House in the next few years - and who they will almost certainly see again in the second week of action in January. RPI fans will get their first look at the Ithaca, N.Y. native on the 19th, as both goaltenders are likely to see about 30 minutes of action. Iles has struggled to put up solid numbers thus far with the Big Red, but to some extent his team in general is struggling in front of him as well, which rarely bodes well overall at Lynah Rink. Given that there are only two goaltenders on the camp roster, Iles is guaranteed a place in Buffalo, most likely backing up Campbell, but if Campbell's struggles continue, he may well be called upon to be the top dog. Iles is draft eligible in 2011, though his size may keep him from being taken, as happened in this year's draft.

Defensemen

D Adam Clendening (Boston University, HEA)
5'11", 190 - 17-1-8-9-24
One of three guys making two visits to Houston Field House in the span of eight days, this Niagara Falls, N.Y. native will be playing for a gold medal just a few miles from where he grew up assuming he makes the team (which is a pretty good assumption). As we saw last week, Clendening has great hands and great vision on the ice, and he has a proven track record on the international level as well, winning a pair of gold medals in both 2009 and 2010 in the World Under-18 Championships. Having just turned 18 in October, Clendening will be draft eligible for the first time in 2011.

D Brian Dumoulin (Boston College, HEA)
6'4", 210 - 16-0-10-10-2
A stay-at-home type defenseman, Dumoulin is in his second season in Chestnut Hill. As a junior in high school in 2008, he led his hometown Biddeford, Maine team to a state championship with an undefeated season. The following year, he was drafted 51st (2nd round) overall in the 2009 NHL Draft by Carolina out of the EJHL. He led the Eagles with a +37 rating in 42 games, picking up 3 assists in the Frozen Four game against Miami.

D Justin Faulk (Minnesota-Duluth, WCHA)
5'11", 200 - 18-6-9-15-14
Probably the top young American defensive playmaker, Faulk, out of South St. Paul, Minn., was drafted 37th overall (2nd round) by Carolina in this year's draft. Blessed with a good shot and a solid hockey mind - meaning he knows what to do with the puck and when - Faulk is the top freshman scorer from the blueline in the WCHA. Expect him to be a key component of the team in Buffalo, especially on the power play.

D Derek Forbort (North Dakota, WCHA)
6'5", 200 - 15-0-9-9-6
The 15th overall (1st round) selection in this year's NHL Draft, Forbort uses his size to his advantage, utilizing his long reach to shut down passing lanes and making himself a menace in the corners. The Duluth, Minn. native played for Duluth East High School before moving on to the US NTDP team last year, where his draft stock rose exponentially, eventually becoming the 3rd highest American drafted in 2010, trailing only Campbell and Cam Fowler, who would be on this team if he were not already an everyday NHL player. With Dumoulin, he should be part of the defensive core of this team.

D Nick Leddy (Rockford, AHL)
5'11", 190 - 21-2-8-10-2
Leddy was unexpectedly missing from last year's camp roster thanks to a broken jaw suffered in his freshman season at the University of Minnesota. The 2009 "Mr. Hockey" in Minnesota, the Eden Prairie, Minn. native was drafted by his hometown Minnesota Wild with the 16th overall pick (1st round) in 2009, only to be traded to Chicago in the middle of last season amidst some controversy about his development at the U of M. One of the first freshmen to join the college exodus last year, Leddy has appeared in six games with the Blackhawks, during which time he scored his first NHL goal.

D Jon Merrill (Michigan, CCHA)
6'3", 209 - 19-5-8-13-4
The other likely blueline playmaker, Merrill was in the news recently when the freshman notched the first two goals of the game for the Wolverines at the Big Chill last weekend in front of over 113,000 fans. One of the final cuts from last year's team while playing for the US NTDP U-18 squad, the Brighton, Mich. native, was the 38th selection (2nd round) by New Jersey in this year's draft and has a lot less to worry about this time around.

D Jamie Oleksiak (Northeastern, HEA)
6'7", 240 - 16-2-2-4-20
Something of a surprise selection to the camp, the 17-year-old Oleksiak scored his first collegiate goal against the Engineers at Matthews Arena on October 15th. The Boston native (who has dual citizenship in Canada) has that one quality that you simply can't teach - size. Greg Cronin at Northeastern has used Oleksiak much the way Zdeno Chara is used in the NHL on the power play, as the screening forward rather than at the point, and he was certainly very effective in that role when we last saw him. Oleksiak may be a longshot to make the final roster but he has a lot of raw talent and he will certainly, at the very least, be a name to remember for the future.

D John Ramage (Wisconsin, WCHA)
6'0", 201 - 20-1-7-8-26
A stalwart leader on last year's gold medal team despite his young age and controversial selection, Ramage is the only returning defenseman from last year. In Saskatchewan, the Chesterfield, Mo. native had three assists, including the primary assist on John Carlson's gold-medal winning goal in overtime. The son of 15-year NHL veteran Rob Ramage, John was drafted 103rd overall (4th round) in this year's NHL Draft by the Calgary Flames. He will more than likely be one of the team's captains and should be a physical presence on the blue line for the Yanks.

D Philip Samuelsson (Boston College, HEA)
6'2", 198 - 16-1-5-6-37
The son of NHL veteran defenseman Ulf Samuelsson, Philip was drafted 61st overall (2nd round) in 2009 by the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of his father's old teams. Born in Sweden but hailing from Scottsdale, Ariz., Samuelsson doesn't have his father's goonish reputation as a player, but he does have a significant physical aspect to his game, and does more offensive creation from the point than his old man did. He may have to fight for a spot in Buffalo given the outstanding physical talent we've already detailed on the blue line, but he's got his shot.

D Patrick Wey (Boston College, HEA)
6'2", 205 - 16-1-3-4-14
Like his BC teammate Samuelsson, Wey is one of the defensemen who will be battling for a position on the final roster. The 115th overall selection (4th round) by the Washington Capitals in 2009, Wey is, for all intents and purposes, a slightly bigger version of Ramage. He has good mobility and vision on the ice, but is not as physical as the WJC veteran from Wisconsin. Expect to see Wey, who hails from Pittsburgh, getting plenty of ice time in Troy looking to impress the coaching staff with his defensive prowess.

Forwards

F Nick Bjugstad (Minnesota, WCHA)
6'4", 204 - 13-2-2-4-23
Minnesota's reigning "Mr. Hockey," Bjugstad turned down an offer from USA Hockey in the summer of 2008 to join the US National Team Player Development Program to stay with his teammates in his hometown of Blaine, Minn. Drafted 19th overall (1st round) by the Florida Panthers in this year's draft, he has had a rough start to his collegiate career after having to deal with a bout of mononucleosis in late October and into November, but he is now back in the Gopher lineup and there is little question to his ability.

F Ryan Bourque (Quebec, QMJHL)
5'9", 164 - 27-20-19-39-7
The son of legendary NHL defenseman Ray Bourque, Ryan has been a dominating force for the Remparts this season, currently leading the team in goals. He had only 3 assists in last year's tournament, but the Boxford, Mass. native should easily be on this year's team, quite possibly as a key component. Drafted by the New York Rangers with the 80th overall pick (3rd round) in 2009, Bourque originally committed to New Hampshire during his stint with the US NTDP before deciding to follow in the footsteps of both his father and his older brother, Chris (also a Team USA WJC veteran), by going to the QMJHL.

F Connor Brickley (Vermont, HEA)
6'1", 195 - 14-2-3-5-4
Brickley is one of those forwards who will need to fight for a spot on the final roster. A physical player out of Everett, Mass., Brickley was the 50th overall (2nd round) selection by the Florida Panthers in this year's draft. He isn't going to put the puck in the net as often as some of the other forwards that have been selected as part of the preliminary roster, but when it comes to standing up to the Canadians - who have always included a physical intimidation factor on their junior teams - Brickley may just be the kind of players Team USA needs in order to fight fire with fire.

F Chris Brown (Michigan, CCHA)
6'2", 194 - 19-2-8-10-12
One of the final camp cuts last season, Brown is back this season and more than likely, he'll be on the final roster heading to Buffalo this time. The Engineers faced off with the Flower Mound, Texas native in the GLI last season, where he was one of the Wolverines shooting early and often at Allen York, uncorking 5 shots, though none of them ultimately found the back of the net. The 36th overall (2nd round) selection of Phoenix in 2009, Brown hasn't been wowing anyone in Ann Arbor with only a couple of power play goals to his credit through two-and-a-half months of the season, but his value on a team like this as a banger who has some proven offensive ability cannot be understated - he could play a role similar to the role Josh Rabbani plays at RPI.

F Mitch Callahan (Kelowna, WHL)
5'11", 175 - 31-15-18-33-62
Another somewhat surprising choice, Callahan was likely asked to join the camp for his imposing physical play more than anything else. A forward that plays bigger than his actual size, Callahan, a native of Whittier, Calif., is in his third season with the Rockets and currently leads the team in scoring. He's an interesting selection because he was not one of the 26 forwards invited to the junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid this summer, but he has the ability to play his way onto the team thanks to his multi-faceted game.

F Charlie Coyle (Boston University, HEA)
6'2", 207 - 17-5-9-14-16
The Engineers were able to keep Coyle bottled up last weekend - he had only a first-period hooking call as his only statistic of the game, no shots - but there's little doubt that he's one of the emerging stars not only of the Terriers, but in Hockey East in general. Already trusted to center Jack Parker's first line, Coyle was drafted 28th (1st round) in this year's draft by the San Jose Sharks. The East Weymouth, Mass. native is one of only three true centers on the preliminary roster, so it's entirely possible that he's one of the names who's already being planned for the final roster, but his offensive contributions at BU would have him as a favorite to make the roster anyway.

F Jerry D'Amigo (Toronto, AHL)
5'11", 213 - 29-3-6-9-17
The man who needs no introduction. The first Engineer to ever sign a professional contract after just one season in Troy (though he would be joined by Brandon Pirri in that category just a few weeks later), D'Amigo makes his valedictory appearance at Houston Field House as an experienced member of the defending champions and the highest returning scorer from last year's tournament. The Binghamton, N.Y. native was a revelation in Saskatchewan last year, boosting his value with the Toronto Maple Leafs team that had drafted him 158th overall in 2009. He played wing on the top line with Derek Stepan (now of the New York Rangers) and Danny Kristo (still with North Dakota), putting up 6 goals and 6 assists as one of the key playmakers for the gold medal winning Yanks.

F Emerson Etem (Medicine Hat, WHL)
6'1", 197 - 31-20-14-34-16
Yet another member of the record-breaking class of Americans chosen in the first round of this year's draft, Etem, out of Long Beach, Calif., was chosen 29th overall (1st round) by his hometown Anaheim Ducks despite being ranked 8th in the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau rankings. Inspired by Sidney Crosby, Etem played two seasons at Crosby's alma mater, Shattuck-St. Mary's, in Minnesota before moving on to the US NTDP team in 2008, where he was teammates with D'Amigo. He's having a great year in the WHL, playing alongside fellow American Tyler Pitlick, who was a surprising omission from this roster.

F Rocco Grimaldi (US National Team Development Program, USHL)
5'6", 161 - 12-8-7-15-14
The only Junior A level player on the camp roster, Grimaldi, a North Dakota commit, is expected to be one of the best incoming players in the NCAA next season. He scores in bunches on one of the most elite collections of teenage Americans in the nation. Obviously, one of the things noticeable immediately with Grimaldi is his size - he doesn't have any. But size isn't always everything, as the 17-year-old out of Rossmoor, Calif. has proven pretty much everywhere he's played by displaying outstanding stickhandling and significant speed. Among his teammates on the US NTDP team is forward Ryan Haggerty, who has an RPI commitment for 2011. His size and his youth may make his selection for the final roster questionable, but his status as one of the three true centers on the team may help punch his ticket.

F Chris Kreider (Boston College, HEA)
6'2", 214 - 16-5-6-11-10
Kreider had a pretty amazing freshman year last season. Not only was he a key member of the gold-medal winning junior team (7-6-1-7-2), he also won the national championship (scoring a goal in the title game) and was even called back up by USA Hockey after the season to play alongside professionals in the World Championships in Germany in May. That was a disastrous showing for the USA - in part because they had to resort to calling in a college player to fill out the squad - but a huge honor for a player just finishing his freshman season and an indication of the regard they have for the Boxford, Mass. native. The New York Rangers drafted Kreider 19th overall (1st round) in 2009, and he was perhaps the most notable name not to jump to the NHL last summer.

F Jeremy Morin (Rockford, AHL)
6'1", 189 - 17-6-3-9-32
Morin had a solid tournament last year (2 goals, 5 assists) that, like D'Amigo, helped him land a professional contract. Expected to be a key part of this team as a WJC veteran, his professional responsibilities may ultimately keep him from being in Buffalo for the tournament or even in Troy for the training camp - injuries to Blackhawks forwards Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa have already resulted in a call-up to the NHL.. Drafted 45th overall (2nd round) by Atlanta in 2009 but traded to Chicago in the Dustin Byfuglien deal only days after signing with the Thrashers, the Auburn, N.Y. native has appeared in seven games for Chicago this year, registering his first two NHL goals on his current callup, earning one assist and a fight on his previous stint.

F Brock Nelson (North Dakota, WCHA)
6'3", 185 - 20-2-4-6-2
Nelson has the bonafides to be a part of this team - nephew of Dave Christian, who was a member of the Miracle On Ice team and in whose footsteps he has followed, playing high school hockey at Warroad High School in northern Minnesota and enrolling at North Dakota. He was drafted 10 spots higher than his uncle, going 30th overall (1st round) to the New York Islanders in this year's draft, but the Minneapolis native has struggled to stand out in Grand Forks, where he has mostly found only third-line time. Nelson will have to step up his game to land on the final roster in Buffalo, given that he is now surrounded by even more talent than he usually is in North Dakota.

F Matt Nieto (Boston University, HEA)
6'0", 180 - 17-5-1-6-4
Allen York needs no introduction to this speedy Long Beach, Calif. native - one of the two shots he had on net last weekend was on a breakaway in the second period which York stoned in order to, at least momentarily, preserve a shutout. Nieto is a powder keg offensively, but with so many veterans from last season returning and with so many solid older offensive talents on the roster, it may be difficult for Nieto to find a role in which he can excel despite his long international history, since most of the names who will feature on the top two lines are pretty well known already, and he really doesn't fit well on a defensive or checking line.

F Kyle Palmieri (Syracuse, AHL)
5'10", 194 - 20-9-4-13-17
Yet another camp invitee with service on the team last season and NHL experience under his belt, Palmieri had nine points (1 goal and 8 assists) in last year's tournament and was part of the youth exodus from the NCAA this summer, leaving Notre Dame after just one season. Palmieri, out of Montvale, N.J., has played 10 games this season with the Anaheim Ducks alongside fellow WJC alum Cam Fowler (who is still with the Ducks), notching his first career NHL goal. He has pretty much cleaned up in the AHL this season as well - despite missing 7 games for the Crunch and being the youngest player on the team, Palmieri, the 26th overall selection (1st round) by the Ducks in 2009, leads the team in goals.

F Brandon Saad (Saginaw, OHL)
6'2", 211 - 30-20-14-34-18
One word describes Saad very well: speed. The swift of skate Gibsonia, Pa. native was drafted in the 1st round of the OHL draft as a 15-year-old, and he was well worth the wait for Saginaw. In his first season of major junior since leaving the US NTDP squad, he is second on the team in goals and third in total scoring. Even at the age of 18, he's already got a pro style frame, and most scouts believe he will be first American taken in the 2011 draft. With those kind of bonafides, Saad may be an excellent fit on this year's final roster not only for this season but with an eye on leadership for the 2012 WJC squad.

F Drew Shore (Denver, WCHA)
6'2", 200 - 20-14-11-25-18
A shoo-in for the final roster, Shore is the leading scorer for the Pioneers thus far, having already eclipsed his freshman year scoring output in only 18 games. The 44th overall (2nd round) selection of the Florida Panthers in the 2009 draft, the Denver native is not only playing in his hometown with the Pioneers, he's also playing with his younger brother, Nick, who was invited to the summer camp in Lake Placid but did not earn a spot on this roster, in part due to a hand injury that kept him out for a month. Drew, meanwhile, is 4th in the nation (and tops in the WCHA) among sophomores in points per game.

F Jason Zucker (Denver, WCHA)
5'11", 180 - 20-14-7-21-26
Last but not least, a veteran of last year's gold medal team that was the youngest on the roster, but has stepped into college hockey without missing a beat. Sharing the same line with Shore, Zucker has been part of one of the most dynamic young duos in all of college hockey, one of only three freshmen in the WCHA among the Top 10 rookies in points per game. Zucker, from Las Vegas, Nev., scored two goals as a 17-year-old and likely be a part not only of this team, but of next year's team in 2012 - along with Jack Campbell, the only gold medalist from last year who will still be eligible, presuming, of course, that he doesn't get the call from the NHL before then - he was drafted 59th overall (2nd round) by the Minnesota Wild in this year's draft.

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