The 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship kicks off today, December 26th, with four games on the schedule. With the start of the 11-day tournament the 10 competing countries all have to get down to a 23-man roster.
Team USA announced their final cut early Christmas day as they cut University of Michigan forward Tyler Mott. Mott had been suffering from the flu along with Adam Erne and had only skated on his own since a December 17th pre-tournament exhibition game.
The final Team USA roster consists of 13 forwards, seven defensemen, and three goalies. Only three of the 23 players on this year’s roster return from last years Championship team: Jon Gillies (G), Ryan Hartman (F), and team captain Riley Barber (F). Gilies only played in 20 minutes last year making seven saves on seven shots in Team USA’s first game of round-robin play, an 8-0 win over Germany. ISS Hockey ranks him as one of the top five goalies of the tournament. Hartman and Barber both played in all seven games last year with Hartman scoring two goals and Barber getting three goals.
Others to watch on this year’s roster are a pair of high draft prospects, Anthony DeAngelo (2014) and Jack Eichel (2015). DeAngelo of the Sarnia Sting is one of the top offensive defensemen in the Ontario Hockey League with nine goals and 39 assists through 33 games this season, though his offensive mindset has taken its toll on his plus/minus, which is currently at a -14. Eichel has been in the U.S. Development Team program over the past two years. So far this season he has scored 13 goals in 10 games.
Also included in the roster is Nashville Predator prospect Zachary Stepan. The 19-year-old forward from Hastings, Minnesota was drafted in the fourth round of the 2012 draft (112th overall). He is currently playing for Minnesota State University where he was voted by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association media as the Preseason Rookie of the Year. Stepan has four goals and four assist through 14 games including two shorthanded goals. We recently interviewed Stepan after he played against The University of Alabama-Huntsville earlier this month.
Stepan is not the lone Predators prospect competing at the World Juniors. Juuse Saros made Finland’s roster. Drafted as the 99th overall pick in the 2013 draft the 18-year-old goalie is currently playing for HPK of the Finnish SM-liiga. He has competed in 22 games this year and has an 1.71 goals against average with a .930 save percentage.
Predators forward Filip Forsberg joins both Saros and Stepan in Sweden. Forsberg was loaned to team Sweden late last week after playing two games in Milwaukee on a reassignment after returning from an upper-body injury.
Regardless of what team or prospect that you are looking forward to watch, the action will be intense over the next 11 days. Be sure to check back after every Team USA game as we recap those games for you and preview the next.