Housley wants U.S. team to find chemistry before WJC
Friday, 12.14.2012 / 4:21 PM
With a compacted schedule leading up to the start of the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, U.S. coach Phil Housley said bringing in 27 players for a pre-tournament camp just felt like the right number.
The evaluation camp will run Dec. 16-18 at the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh, N.Y.
"Our first exhibition game is on Dec. 20 [in Helsinki] and we have to travel in between that time, so it doesn't give us a lot of prep time to hold a camp where we're going to have scrimmages," Housley told NHL.com. "We have to kind of break down our team the best we can and get down to that number in a short few days we have."
USA Hockey expects to have its 23-player roster named by Dec. 22. The WJC starts Dec. 26, in Ufa, Russia.
Though Housley won't have full-blown, game-type scrimmages like other countries have in their evaluation camps, he said he expects the sessions to be brisk and to focus on refreshing the players in team concepts set in place during the preliminary evaluation camp in August in Lake Placid, N.Y. In addition, he hopes to see some forwards lines or defense pairings quickly find a comfort level playing together.
That's one reason the top line from the Lake Placid camp, the trio of Sean Kuraly, Mario Lucia and Stefan Noesen, was brought back. Another line that played well together was Alex Galchenyuk, J.T. Miller and John Gaudreau, all of whom will be in Greenburgh.
"I think my main concern is that we can create some chemistry, we can get that unity playing as a team," Housley said. "That's one of the things that I'd like to accomplish heading into Ufa. I think these are the days that we're going to pair certain guys with certain players, but that's subject to change. It all depends on what type of role we see them playing."
One player who could fit into multiple roles is Miller, the New York Rangers prospect who played on the wing and in the middle at the Lake Placid camp, but has played mostly center with the Connecticut Whale of the American Hockey League this season. He's fifth on his team with 13 points in 24 games.
Add to the skill and versatility the experience he gained by playing in last year's tournament, and the sum is a player Housley envisions having a major role on this year's U.S. team.
"I'm just going to go back to Lake Placid," Housley said. "I really liked the way he was a leader. He's been through it before, last year, and has the experience. He was trying to corral the guys, trying to be in that leadership role. To be able to play center on the power play in the American Hockey League speaks volumes as to where his development has gone. He's very, very strong. You're going to need grit in this tournament, especially our team -- we're playing four games in five nights -- so definitely we're going to have to have some guys that play with some consistency and I see J.T. doing that."
Another forward whose versatility and skill could earn him a place on the team is Ryan Hartman, one of two 2013 NHL Draft-eligible players invited to the camp. The 5-foot-11, 187-pound forward played mostly right wing last season with the U.S. National Team Development Program and at the summer evaluation camp, but has played most of this season at center with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. He's second on his team with 28 points in 30 games, and is No. 11 on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary ranking of OHL skaters for this year's draft.
"I love the energy he provides," Housley said. "He's aggressive but he doesn't cross that line to being undisciplined. That's a tough role to teach because some guys will lose their composure. But he's in there, he's aggressive. He's providing points for his team, if you look at his numbers. And he plays a physical game. He's got speed, he can be first on the puck. He's going to find a way to win a battle. That's what really intrigues me about Ryan."
The most difficult decisions for Housley and the USA Hockey staff could come on the blue line, which features a talented group stocked with skill at both ends of the ice.
"Definitely it's going to be tough," said Housley, a former NHL defenseman. "But I really am confident with the nine players now, before we make those decisions. They all bring some aspect to our team. What that role and aspect is remains to be seen. Certainly I feel very confident with the nine players and any of the seven players that will be on the roster will get the job done."
At the head of that list likely will be Seth Jones, thought by some to be the best player available in the 2013 NHL Draft. This season, his first with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League, the 6-3.5, 208-pound blueliner is tied for third among WHL defensemen with 28 points in 30 games, and has a plus-27 rating.
As impressive as he is on the ice, Housley said he's been just as impressed by Jones' off-ice presence.
"The biggest thing for me is the way he carries himself," the coach said. "He's very composed off the ice and very relaxed. And very mature, which I think rubs off on the other guys. I think it's just a calming influence. He gets on the bench, he doesn't get rattled. I think that shows the confidence he has and the maturity.
"He's a joy to be around. He's a great kid."
Jones is as close to a lock to make this year's team as any player at the camp. Another who fits that description is goaltender John Gibson. Like Miller, he gained important experience playing in last year's tournament. And his play this season with the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL has been sensational: He's second in the league with a 2.13 goals-against average and .934 save percentage. He missed time recently with a hip issue, but Housley said the most recent report on Gibson was that he is a "full go" for this week's camp.
"I really think his work ethic at the [Lake Placid] camp and the way he played, he played like a top goaltender," Housley said. "He really impressed me [in] the game against Sweden in Lake Placid when there were some very quality, grade-A scoring chances that he shut down. I'm happy he's going to be healthy. He's got some experience, which is going to be important going into this tournament."
Before arriving in Ufa, Housley and his staff will have to trim four players from the current group. The hope is the 27 players skating in Greenburgh make those decisions as hard as possible.
"I think all in all, a lot of these guys made another step in their development and coming into this camp," he said. "Some guys have played their way onto this preliminary roster -- for example, Riley Barber. Some guys are playing with a ton of confidence. Some guys are going to have to play with a little chip on their shoulder to prove themselves once again to where they were at the [Lake Placid] camp. It's not going to be easy. We're going to leave some really good hockey players behind. It's unfortunate that we can only roster 23 players."