Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hello World The USA is Back

Surprise the US Under-20 team are not only the depending champions but also the favorites to repeat as champions when the World Under-20 Championships begin on Sunday. What is not a surprise is that this is the dividends of a process that was 15 years in the making.

It started when USA Hockey came up with the National Team Development Program (NTDP) back in 1996 in order to help identify and develop the very best American born hockey players under the age of 18. It has taken a while but the results are finally showing up in gold medals not only at the Under-20 level but also at the Under-18 and Under-17 levels as well.

The NTDP is without a doubt the best investment that the United States has ever made into the men's hockey program  and why the United States is no longer anyone's doormats. Ryan Bourque (NYR 2009 3rd) is a great example of how the program has worked as Bourque is looking to earn his 3rd straight gold medal as a member of a USA hockey team (4 total medals in a row going back to 2008).

Ryan Bourque won a gold and a bronze as a member of the Under-18 team prior to winning the gold with the Under-20 team last year. Bourque is an example of the NTDP program that is showing visible progress thanks to last year's gold medal winning team.

The final roster for this year's USA entry in the Under-20 Championships will be announced via Facebook here at 9:10 AM EDT. We do not need to wait that long since we will be shocked if any of last year's gold medal returnees are not included.

In addition to Ryan Bourque and Chris Kreider, the other 2010 gold medalists include goalie Jack Campbell (Windsor Spitfires); defenseman John Ramage (Wisconsin Badgers), forwards Jerry D'Amigo (Toronto Marlies), Jeremy Morin (Rockford Ice Dogs), Kyle Palmieri (Syracuse Crunch) and Jason Zucker (Univ. of Denver).

We will toss in Boston College's Phillip Samuelsson (son of Ulfie) and Brian Dumoulin (6'4 defensive whiz), North Dakota's Derek Forbort (6'5), and Boston University's Charlie Coyle (watch him as he is going to be huge for USA). (A scary thought is if 6'7 240 lb D Jamie Oleksiak makes the roster as yesterday was his 18th birthday)

All of these players have played for or been a part of the NTDP program at one time or another so most have played with each of their USA teammates which gives the USA a huge edge over their competition.

Credit also has to be given to a couple of guys who will not be in Buffalo in Danton Cole and Ron Rolston  as they coach the USA Under-17 and Under-18 teams respectively.

The work they do in coaching those young players today is going to keep the USA at the top of the Under-20 ranks for a number of years. Who knows maybe not in 2012 but if the NHL continues to send players to the Olympics then we will see Olympic Gold be added in the future.

The Crystal Ball 

It took some serious looking at the other teams and when we got past Team Canada's "pity us we need to be blue collar" that we decided to say the 2011 World Under-20 Championships look like this:

Group A: The USA's road to a gold medal is a lot easier this year as their group is nothing like Group B. The lamb for slaughter is Germany so there is 1 win, the biggest threat is Slovakia who after years of fighting it has finally embraced those players who left Slovakia to play in the Canadian Juniors.

We thought Switzerland would be a dark horse but while they will bring the most entertaining individual players in Nino Niederreiter and Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winterhawks; they are going to on the average be one of the smaller teams which will haunt them.

Our darkhorse out of Group A is going to be Finland as they are bringing some size to match up with the USA but they always play a strong defensive game. Too often people forget about the Finns but experience has taught us not to.


Group B-Canada did a great sell job about having to claw and scratch for every goal until they blew out Switzerland 8-0 and then defeated a very fast Sweden 4-1. Canada is going to bring out the hankies with their pity party as they prepare their country for a 2nd year without a gold medal.

This is a very tough group to go through as Russia and Sweden showed that they can hang with the Canadians toe to toe. The weak sister here is Norway as they will try but they are in a group that will be full of speed but they just do not match up against the very physical play.

We will see if the Czech Republic got the message from their poor performance last year as they invited 13 players who play in the Canadian Juniors this year which makes them the wild card out of this group. If the Czechs let the CHLers play like they have then this could be the most dangerous team in the tournament as a mix of North American/European styles is a scary sight.

Oh will we get trashed for our prediction in this group but we do feel that Canada make several mistakes by not including players like Joey Hishon, Ryan Howse, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ryan Murphy. We never believe a team should be built to defeat one other team but rather to bring their very best so others are forced to beat you.

Canada is going to struggle without a sniper for the power play and that we believe is what is going to be their eventual undoing. Russia was embarrassed last season by blowing their game against the Swiss and sent a big message in the Subway Super Series.

And if the cards fall the way we think then the anger that Canada has toward us will be nothing compared to what they will direct towards Hockey Canada. In our eyes Canada had a panic attack first losing to the USA last year then 4 out of 6 to the Russians in the Subway Super Series this year.

2-Czech Republic

They built this championship trying to insure a USA/Canada gold medal rematch but we think at best Canada and the US will meet in the semi-finals. The Gold we believe will come down to USA/Russia which to be honest would do more to gain the average US fan interest more than a rematch with Canada.

Oh in case you did not know; Buffalo is just 350 miles from another place where USA hockey history was once made in Lake Placid. Sorry Canada but 2012 is the year you will realize that the way to win is to be your best by bringing your best.

(IIHF logo courtesy of the IIHF, Ryan Bourque courtesy of USA Hockey)

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