The last line of defence may be the major strength of Team USA in this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship.
Netminder Jack Campbell was named the top goaltender in last year’s tournament at Buffalo and is the key to the Americans’ gold-medal hopes this time around.
The individual honour he received in the 2011 WJC was somewhat shallow considering the Americans were definite gold-medal contenders and had to settle for bronze after falling 4-1 to Canada in a semifinal. Team USA defeated Sweden 4-2 in the bronze-medal contest.
“I’m a guy that rates myself on one thing, and that’s winning,” Campbell, who stops pucks for Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL, told TSN in a recent interview from the Team USA camp at Camrose. “I didn’t get it done for the guys last year. We wanted to win that gold medal and we didn’t. This year I have some expectations to fulfill. There’s a lot of fire in my belly this year.”
Campbell, who should be in the Team USA lineup for tonight’s 7 p.m. pre-tournament game at the Centrium versus defending champion Russia, knows all about winning the big prize after helping the Americans claim gold two years ago in Saskatoon with a 6-5 overtime victory over Canada.
“He was in the net for us that year and he has highs standards for himself,” said Team USA head coach Dean Blais.
Offensively, the Americans will be led this year by Medicine Hat Tigers star Etem Etem, who sits third in WHL scoring with 61 points — including 30 goals — in 34 games, as well as Charlie Coyle from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL and Nick Bjugstad of the University of Minnesota. All three were selected in the first round of the 2010 NHL entry draft.
The USA defence should be large, with seven of the 10 rearguards attending camp at Camrose standing six-foot-three or taller.
The Americans were hoping that their blueline would include NHL rearguard Justin Faulk, but the Carolina Hurricanes announced Monday that they won’t release the 19-year-old to Team USA. Faulk is playing top-four minutes with the ‘Canes.
As it stands, the USA defence features just two returnees in Adam Clendening (Boston University) and Stephen Jones (University of Notre Dame). The Americans’ pre-tournament roster also features Montreal Canadiens prime prospect Jarred Tinordi, the six-foot-seven, 215-pound son of former NHL defenceman and Red Deer product Mark Tinordi.
Meanwhile, the Russians won gold last January — scoring five times in the third period in defeating Canada 5-3 — with a roster top-heavy in 19-year-olds. Just one player — Washington Capitals forward prospect Yevgeni Kuznetsov — is back from the gold-medal team.
The Russian pre-tournament roster features seven players currently skating in the Canadian Hockey League, including Saskatoon Blades goalie Andrey Makarov and Quebec Remparts star forward Mikhail Grigorenko. Also on the roster is Andrei Vasilevski, the top-ranked Russian goalie for next year’s NHL entry draft.
In another pre-tournament contest tonight, Sweden meets Denmark at 7:30 p.m. in Olds.
Team Canada will take on Switzerland Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Centrium and Three Hills will host Team USA and Slovakia Friday at 7 p.m.
The 2012 World Junior Championship runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Calgary and Edmonton.
— copyright Red Deer Advocate