Terry Brennan is proudly seated in the Lake Placid Olympic Center venues, closely watching his son T.J. Brennan (BUF) doing drills with 44 other great U.S. hockey competitors. "I’m so honored that my son is here, trying to make the National Junior Team and representing his country," Terry told Hockey’s Future during the first practice of the 2007 Evaluation Camp. "It is a tremendous honor," repeated Terry who was also in Columbus when his son, a 6’0 and 183-pound defenseman, was the first player selected in the second round of the 2007 NHL draft.
As it is the tradition for years now in August, the best U.S. Under-20 hockey players gather in Lake Placid, NY the home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. They are trying to make their mark and impress enough to get an invitation to be part of this year’s U.S. National Junior Team.
Looking for players with team concept
The camp began on August 3 and will end on August 11. The 45 Americans invited are split into two teams, Team White and Team Blue. These teams will play against each other on August 5 and 6. Later this week, both teams will play two games each against Under-20 teams from Sweden and Finland.
This edition of the U.S. Junior Team will be coached by John Hynes, who has served for almost 10 years in the U.S. NTDP program. Hynes won the gold medal at the 2006 U-18 IIHF Championship as the head coach and he also won the gold at the 2004 U-20 IIHF Championship as the assistant to Mike Eaves.
"Our scouts did a great job," commented Hynes about this year’s pack of players invited in Lake Placid. "It doesn’t matter where the kids are coming from — we are looking for their ability to play hockey and for the ones who can play in a team concept," said Hynes the first day of the camp.
"Every player getting at this camp is a good hockey player. We are looking for the ones that are self-motivated, the ones that are tough mentally and tough physically, we are looking inside their soul to see the ones that are able to compete every minute of every game in a short seven-game competition," added Hynes.
Kane and vanRiemsdyk lead the group
The 45-player squad includes the No. 1 and 2 picks overall of the last entry draft – Patrick Kane (CHI) and James vanRiemsdyk (PHI). "It is fun to be here, I played with many of these guys either with the National Team in Sweden or with last year’s Under-18 Team. There is a lot of talent here," commented vanRiemsdyk after the first practice.
"I approach the camp pretty much the same way as last year — there aren’t guaranteed spots on the team," said Carman. "I feel more comfortable though and I’ll try to help the ones who are here for the first time," added the 2006 Colorado Avalanche third-round pick.
Carman had a great experience at the 2007 WJC. "We had a great time there, the guys really bonded. We fell short of the gold medal game by just a goal scored in the shootout," he recalled, referring to the game lost to Canada in the semis.
Peter Mueller (PHO) and Bill Sweatt (CHI) were also invited but couldn’t attend due to injury, confirmed Jim Johannson the USA Hockey Assistant Executive Director of Hockey Operations.
The NHL first overall selection of 2006 and Best Defenseman of the 2007 WJC Erik Johnson is still eligible to play at the WJC, but was not invited, said Hynes. Johnson signed a three-year deal with St. Louis Blues last spring and is widely expected to be playing in the NHL this year.
In the whole, 15 of the 45 players attended the camp last year and 13 of them won the silver medal at the Under-18 IIHF championship last April in Finland.
Four kids to watch
Three of the players will be eligible for the first time at the NHL Entry draft in 2008.They are Thomas McCollum (a goaltender who will play for Guelph in the OHL next fall), Colin Wilson (a forward who will attend Boston University) and Jimmy Hayes (a forward who will play for the U-18 U.S. Team).
The youngest player invited to this camp is Jordan Schroeder, a 5’8 and 172-pound forward born on Sept. 29, 1990, making him the only one born in the 1990’s. Schroeder will miss the 2008 NHL draft by a mere 14 days and will be eligible in 2009. "I think that it is a good thing for me, I’ll be able to develop more and become a better hockey player," the third best scoring leader of the 2007 U-18 IIHF championship told Hockey’s Future.
A lot of talent
Twelve players are NHL first-rounders. The Montreal Canadiens top the NHL with three first-rounders at the camp – David Fischer, Ryan McDonagh and Max Pacioretty. "It is a great honor to be here, these are the best players in the country and it is a great feeling playing with them," commented McDonagh. Asked if he is confident to make the team, the NHL 2007 12th selection said he doesn’t know. "I’ll try my best," he said.
McDonagh was in Montreal a few weeks ago at the team’s Development Camp. "It was a blast, there were so many media representatives and fans were nuts up there, even for a morning session they were there," observed McDonagh. "I didn’t expect at all it could be like that, it just shows how important hockey is in Montreal. I was so glad to be there."
Most of the invitees will play for teams from the NCAA next year. The University of Minnesota leads the pack with six players at the camp in Lake Placid. A couple of the invitees will resume their affiliation with the NTDP program and nine will be heading north to the CHL.
With five prospects each, the Colorado Avalanche (Carman, Kent Patterson, Kevin Montgomery, Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Galiardi) and the Nashville Predators (Geoffrion, Jeremy Smith, Jonathon Blum, Ryan Flynn, and Ben Ryan) are the NHL teams with the most players at the camp. "It is good to see that Nashville has some good top prospects," said Blum, a native of Rancho Santa Margarita, California. "It is awesome and hard to believe I’m here, skating where the Americans beat the Russians," observed the 2007 No. 23 selection.
Eleven NHL teams don’t have any prospects among the 45 invitees.
This year, the World Junior Championship will be held in Pardubice and Liberec in Czech Republic, from December 26 to January 5. The U.S. team won the bronze medal last year and will try to win their second gold ever of this event.
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