Hockey Canada

Americans hoping to 'slay the beast' at world juniors

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The Canadian Press
12/3/2008 5:33:53 PM
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James van Riemsdyk has been part of two semifinal losses to Canada at the world junior hockey championship, and expects the United States to meet its main rival once again when it counts at the 2009 tournament.

The Philadelphia Flyers prospect, selected No. 2 overall in the 2007 NHL draft, headlines the roster named by USA Hockey on Wednesday for the Dec. 26-Jan. 5 competition in Ottawa.

He remembers well the anguish of a heartbreaking 2-1, seven-round shootout defeat in 2007, and of a poorly played 4-1 setback in '08, which is why he's looking forward to taking another crack at the Canadians.

The teams meet in the opening round Dec. 31, and perhaps again in the medal round.

"To be the best you have to beat the best," the University of New Hampshire winger said on a conference call. "Obviously they're the defending champion, so pretty much the road to get to the gold medal is probably going to go through them.

"That's something we're going to have to be ready for."

Van Riemsdyk is likely to be reunited on the U.S.'s top line with Colin Wilson, a Nashville Predators draft pick out of Boston University, and Jordan Schroeder, a University of Minnesota product who is draft eligible next summer.

The American blue-line should be a strength as it features seven NHL draft picks, four of them first rounders in 2007 - Ryan McDonagh (Montreal, 12th overall), Kevin Shattenkirk (Colorado, 14th), Ian Cole (St. Louis, 18th) and Jonathan Blum (Nashville, 23rd).

They'll play in front of two goaltenders new to the event: Thomas McCollum, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick currently with the OHL's Guelph Storm, and Josh Unice, a Chicago Blackhawks selection with the Kitchener Rangers.

Head coach Ron Rolston promises that his team will play an attacking game rooted in strong defence, and that the Americans won't be much fun to play against.

"We built this team with some good size," he said. "Going into the tournament, we wanted to construct a hockey team that had physical toughness to it, mental toughness to it, a lot of character on it, so we'll be able to play a lot of different ways."

The Americans head into the competition having played for a medal in each of the past six years, dubiously emerging with just two.

One of them was a gold in 2004 against a Canadian team that blew a 3-1, third-period lead, with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury infamously shooting a clearing attempt off defenceman Braydon Coburn into the Canadian net with 5:12 left for the winning goal.

The other was a bronze in 2007 that was a consolation prize following a defeat in one the most memorable world junior championship games in recent memory.

The U.S. outplayed Canada for most of the semifinal but couldn't solve Carey Price, who was especially brilliant in overtime when his team was outshot 12-2.

An-edge-of-the-seat shootout followed that included a controversial save by Price that U.S. officials felt may have slipped past the goal-line under the goalie's pads. It didn't count, Jonathan Toews scored on Canada's seventh chance and Price stopped Peter Mueller to win it.

"It was definitely a pretty emotional game, a lot of blood flowing out there," said van Riemsdyk, who was 17 at the time.

"The one thing I do remember was just how charged up everyone was to get a chance to slay the beast. Canada has just been so dominant at the tournament, it would have been nice to get a victory there and go on to the next level, but they found a way to win. I guess that's what good teams find a way to do."

Rolston coached the 2007 team and returns eager to see his team take the next step this time around. The United States has won just five medals since the tournament's inception in 1977, and has a reputation for constructing talented teams that don't get the job done.

"We thought we played one of our best, if not the best game of the ('07) tournament that we had against them in that game," he said. "We had a power play in overtime, we outshot them in overtime and just came up short in the shootout.

"It was disappointing but it was certainly an experience that will help us in the future and strive to get past that level and win a gold medal in this year's championship."

And Rolston understands that for that to happen, it's likely going to require a meaningful win over Canada.

"We're a team ... that's been to that medal round for six straight years and we're a team that is looking to take that next step," he said. "And certainly to do that, you have to knock off the champions. That's our goal, to win the gold, and we know perennially, they've been the team that has done that.

"That's part of the rivalry."

USA Hockey (Photo: USA Hockey)

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(Photo: USA Hockey)
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