Kristo, Three USHL Alumni, Off To WJC

By League Press Release

USA Hockey has announced the roster for Team USA that will take part in the 2009 World Junior Championships, to be played in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada December 26, 2008 through January 5, 2009.  Included on the roster are one current USHL player – Omaha’s Danny Kristo, and three USHL alumni – Blake Kessel (Waterloo), Aaron Palushaj (Des Moines) and Jimmy Hayes (Lincoln).

In addition to the four players, Waterloo Head Coach P.K. O’Handley and Indiana Head Coach Jeff Blashill will be assistant coaches with the team.

Kristo, in his first season in the USHL, was a second round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2008 NHL Draft.  In 17 games this season with the Lancers, Kristo has scored six goals and 17 points.  He is tied for the team lead in assists as well as power play assists.  He was a key part of the team that won the gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge last month as well, scoring three goals and totaling seven points in five games.

Kristo, who recently signed a national letter of intent with the University of North Dakota, is the first USHL player to play in the WJC while still playing in the USHL since former Des Moines star Reggie Berg did it in 1994.

"We are excited about this event this year because the USHL will have a direct impact on Team USA’s performance.  With two coaches and four players taking part, it is a big year at this tournament for the USHL," said USHL Executive Vice President Gino Gasparini.  "This is, for many, the biggest and best amateur tournament in the world and we look forward to seeing the USHL at the forefront for Team USA."

Kessel is currently a freshman at the University of New Hampshire.  A 2007 New York Islanders draft pick (166 overall), Kessel was the 2007 ProGuard USHL Defenseman of the Year and a two-time USHL All-Star while playing with Waterloo.  He was named to the 2007 Center Trophy USHL All-Rookie team and was an RBK USHL First Team pick in 2008.  He has appeared in all 14 games this season for the Wildcats, scoring one goal and three points.  He scored 30 goals and 95 points in 118 games in two USHL seasons.

Palushaj is a sophomore at the University of Michigan.  He leads the Wolverines in assists (14) and points (21) through 16 games.  He is a 2007 St. Louis Blues draft pick (44 overall) who was also a USHL All-Star in 2007 and won a Clark Cup title with Des Moines in 2006.  In two USHL seasons he appeared in 114 games, scoring 32 goals and 100 points.

Hayes is enjoying a strong freshman season at Boston College.  He has played in 13 of 14 games this season and has six goals and eight points.  The 2008 Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick (60 overall) spent half of the 2007-08 season with the Lincoln Stars, scoring four goals and 15 points in 21 games.

"USA Hockey has put together a very strong roster for this event and I look forward to seeing them perform," Gasparini said.  "It’s a great event and our league is pleased that we will have players and coaches there making an impact, and trying to win another gold medal."

The United States last won gold at the WJC in 2004, defeating Canada 4-3 in the final.  That team included USHL alumni Dominic Vicari (Omaha), Danny Richmond (Chicago) and Matt Carle (Omaha).

All Team USA games will be aired live on NHL Network.  Team USA’s schedule is below, with all times listed as Eastern Standard Time.

December 26 vs. Germany – 3:30 p.m.
December 28 vs. Czech Republic – 7:30 p.m.
December 30 vs. Kazakhstan – 7:30 p.m.
December 31 vs. Canada – 7:30 p.m.
January 2 quarterfinals – time TBD
January 3 semifinals – time TBD
January 5 bronze and gold medal games – 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Team USA will also play a pair of exhibition games in Ottawa, vs. Latvia on December 21 and Russia on December 23.  Neither of the exhibition games will be televised.

More on the World Junior Championships are available on the USA Hockey and IIHF web sites.

The USHL is celebrating its 30th season of junior hockey in 2008-09.  With over 120 players already committed to NCAA Division I schools and 16 NHL Draft picks playing in the league, the USHL is the nation’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.  For more information, visit us on the web at www.ushl.com.