Trio of U.S. returnees hope for better WJC fate
Monday, 12.17.2012 / 4:16 PM
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Even though U.S. National Junior Team coach Phil Housley has made a point of not rehashing the memories of a disappointing finish at the 2012 World Junior Championship in Alberta during selection camp this week, there are a few players more than willing to educate on the agony of defeat.
"We want to put [last year] behind us ... it's old news and in the past," forward J.T. Miller told NHL.com. "But, at the same time, we learned from it."
Miller, who worked on a line with Rocco Grimaldi and John Gaudreau at Monday's practice, is the only player at camp with professional experience in the American Hockey League with the Connecticut Whale this season. He's also one of three returnees from last year's U.S. team that placed seventh at the 2012 WJC, its worst showing since finishing eighth in 1999.
"I think we just took too much for granted out there [last year]," Miller said. "We went into the tournament thinking it was a guarantee that we would beat the likes of Finland and the Czech Republic. Really, anybody can beat anybody -- you can't take anything for granted and that's what I'm going to try to stress to these guys.
"You have to play every game as if it's your last, no matter who you're playing. You need to go out and play every game ... put your best foot forward in every opportunity."
Despite the fact not a lot has been made of last year's finish, Miller is obviously looking to set the record straight this year along with fellow returnees John Gibson in goal and Jacob Trouba on defense.
"Every player in camp is very enthusiastic, and I think that's something that we might have lacked a little bit last year," Miller said. "I thought we were more business [last year], but I think the guys here know how to turn it on and off. We're bringing a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and lot of guys are all new to this and really excited to jump in.
"We have only a few cuts to make so a lot of guys here are going to be on this team."
The United States will announce its official 23-man roster on Dec. 22. That lineup will include 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies, including one emergency backup in case of injury.
"Last year was an embarrassment," Gibson said. "And that left a bad taste in our mouths. Obviously the three returnees want to set a good example and take what happened last year into this year and learn from it. We need to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Gibson was asked if the memories of his only start in last year's tournament -- a 4-1 loss to Finland -- linger. The 6-foot-3, 222-pound goalie, who stopped 23 of 27 shots in the game, was whistled for an interference penalty midway through the third period that led to Finland's second goal of the game. The Finns would ultimately tack on two more goals in scoring the upset.
"It happened almost a year ago, and most of us don't get second chances, so when you do get a second chance, you have to make the most of it," Gibson said. "That's what we're here to do."
Gibson will be the starter for the Americans when the tournament commences in Ufa, Russia, on Dec. 26. The United States will open preliminary-round play on Dec. 27 against Germany at Ufa Arena.
Miller has mostly played center with the Whale and is fifth on his team with 14 points in 26 games.
"It's nice to know that I've played at a little bit of a higher level and think that I could use more of my experience and help guys that haven't been to that level yet," Miller said. "I think it'll be crucial for them to realize what it takes and to get that through their head. I need to be a leader on the ice by showing what I've learned, while working at a high level. If I can play at the same pace I play at when I'm in the AHL, I will be, and the whole team will be, successful."
Housley knows that having some experience throughout the lineup will benefit those unfamiliar with an international tournament of this magnitude.
"It's important to have some players who have been through the grind and know how difficult this tournament can be," Housley said. "They want to improve their play from last year ... sort of a redemption thing. It's great to have a goalie with international experience [in Gibson] and you know that the speed and pace of the every game is heightened. It's nice to have some players coming back so they can share their experiences with other members of the team."