The 2006 National Junior Evaluation Camp was launched on August 5 in Lake Placid, NY, the home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. For more than 15 years, the best U.S. junior players have the chance to make their mark in the wonderful Olympic Center venues, a complex of four ice rinks edged by the glistening waters of the Mirror Lake and surrounded by the famous Adirondack high peaks.
Beginning on December 26, the chosen squad will try to capture its second gold medal in the 30-year history of the IIHF junior championship after the one won with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over rival Canada in 2004.
The young men were all in smiles entering the ice Saturday morning.
“It’s a great feeling, there are so many good players here and even if it’s only the first day of the camp, you can see the competition on the ice,” commented Patrick Kane (2007) to Hockey’s Future.
“These are the best players in the nation and I’m here,” observed David Fischer (MTL). “It is an honor to have been invited and I will do my best. I’m well aware that not many players get this opportunity.”
“You create friendships in this camp and I’m very pleased to see guys I have met the last time,” said Bobby Ryan (ANA).
Quality and experience on the ice
The organization invited 46 players of whom 13 are NHL first-rounders and nine second-rounders. The invitees include 11 players who were part of the 2006 U.S. Junior Team that competed in Vancouver, B.C.
Thirty of the 46 invitees are already IIHF gold medal winners. Indeed, 17 of them won the Under-18 IIHF championship in 2005 and 13 others repeated the exploit in Sweden for the U.S. in April 2006. Erik Johnson (STL) was a member of both teams.
Only two of the players have not yet reached 18 years old – forwards Patrick Kane and Bill Sweat. Both will turn 18 before the end of the year and will be eligible for the NHL 2007 Entry Draft.
The U.S. National Team Development Program route is the one chosen by 27 of the players invited. Most of the players are committed to the NCAA for 2006-07. The best represented university is the University of Minnesota where eight of the members of the camp will play. Only five players are committed to the Canadian Hockey League for 2006-07.
Two key defensemen could not make it to the camp. “Erik Johnson suffers a little injury while Jack Johnson had to stay home for family reasons,” USA Senior Director of Hockey Operations Jim Johannson told Hockey’s Future.
Also, two-time USA Junior Team member Brian Lee (OTT) was forced to stay off the ice at least for the first two days of the camp confined on the stationary bicycle due to a minor injury.
“I’m just taking care before the season opens,” stated Lee in the USA Rink.
Quality and experience off the ice
The group of players is very well surrounded off the ice. Indeed, the staff sent by USA Hockey to Lake Placid includes a minimum of 16 members.
The team will be coached by Ron Rolston who led the U.S. National Under-18 Team to the gold medal at the IIHF championship last April.
Rolston will be assisted by Nate Leaman, who was the assistant coach of the IIHF championship 2005 U.S. U-18 gold winner team.
The other assistant coach will be the top American-born point getter in the NHL, Phil Housley. Retired in 2003 after 21 years in the NHL, including six All-Star games, Housley has some experience in the IIHF championships. He was a member of the 1982 U.S. National Junior Team. He won a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. After his retirement from the NHL, he was also involved with USA Hockey as a color commentator for USAHockey.com’s audiocasts of the 2005 and 2006 IIHF World Under-18 Championships.
The list of the coaches invited to the camp includes John Harrington, who played for the USA Team that beat the USSR 4-3 at the Olympic Games in February of 1980 en route to the biggest upset of the 20th century in hockey.
The least to say is that both on and off the ice, there are men with huge leadership, talented people and true winners. These ingredients do not suffice to make a sure IIHF World Junior winning team, but it is a good base to start from.
As usual, the USA group will be divided into two teams – the Blue Team led by Phil Kessel (BOS) and Bobby Ryan and the White Team led by Jack Skille (CHI) and Peter Mueller (PHO).
Beginning on Tuesday August 8, each U.S. team will play two exhibition games against junior prospects of Team Finland and Team Sweden.
Games will be played in the 1980 Rink, now called the Herb Brooks Arena, the home of the “Miracle on Ice”. U.S. players may also be inspired by the soul of Kate Smith (1907-1986), a summer resident of Lake Placid and former singer of unforgettable “God Bless America.”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.