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College Players Give U.S. Hockey Team Fresh Legs For Worlds

By Mike McMahon | April 29, 2015, 10:27 a.m. (ET)

Jack Eichel #9 of the Boston University Terriers skates against the Providence Friars during the first period of the 2015 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships at TD Garden on April 11, 2015 in Boston. 

The U.S. men’s hockey team will begin play in the 79th IIHF Men’s World Championships in the Czech Republic this Friday with a new-look roster comprised of a slew of newcomers, including five players that have yet to make their professional hockey debuts.

Among the handful of collegiate players added to the roster is Boston University forward Jack Eichel, who is expected to be either the first or second selection in June’s NHL Entry Draft.

Joining Eichel, who won the Hobey Baker Award earlier this month, is fellow Hobey finalist Jimmy Vesey of Harvard. Mike Reilly (Minnesota), Dylan Larkin (Michigan) and Alex Lyon (Yale) are also headed overseas with Team USA.

“They’re good players,” said Jim Johannson, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations. “They’re younger guys, and I think that it’s good experience for them on the international level, but they’re also good players who we believe are going to bring something to our roster. We are bringing a team that we believe can compete, and those guys are all an important part of that.”

Mike Reilly #5 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers takes control of the puck as Matt Johnson #26 of the Ohio State Buckeyes and Jake Parenteau #6 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers looks on during the first period of the semifinal game of the Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Championship on March 21, 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minn. 

The Americans are also taking a college head coach as one of the team’s assistants, as St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel is on Team USA’s staff. Todd Richards, head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets is the head coach.

Team USA opens its round-robin play on Friday against Finland. All of Team USA’s games will be broadcast live on NBC Sports and streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra, with the exception of two tape-delayed broadcasts.

The United States is part of Pool B, which will be playing its preliminary-round games in Ostrava. Pool A will compete in Prague. The top-four teams from each pool will advance to the quarterfinal round.

Of the 21 players currently on Team USA’s roster, 10 will be donning the red, white and blue for the first time. Another six players will be competing in their first international competition as non-junior players.

There’s something that tends to be infectious about younger players, Johannson said. Take Eichel, for example. His college season extended as far as it could, all the way to the national title game, and he still only has played 40 games this season; 45 if you include the World Junior Championships this past December, when he captained Team USA.

“We’ve talked to some of the guys about their energy,” Johannson said. “It might sound funny saying this, but I think that players really gravitate towards younger guys. If they’re playing at a faster pace, or if they have a higher energy level, it brings up the energy level of the entire team. That energy can really spread throughout a room.”

With so many new faces to Team USA on the roster, Johannson also said there is a strong sense of pride in the players he has spoken with prior to the team meeting overseas this week.

Defenseman Justin Faulk is the only player on the U.S. roster with Olympic experience.

“Justin Faulk has been on an Olympic team for us, and he’ll be a guy I’m sure a lot of our players will look to in a leadership position,” Johannson said. “There’s players like Matt Hendricks; this will be his first time playing for us. For a lot of guys, this is their first experience at worlds, and from talking to our players, there is a lot of excitement about that.

“I also think players are excited about getting over there and getting started. They know, once we get there, it’s the team we have for the next about three weeks. For the pro guys, no one is getting sent down or traded, this is your team for the tournament, so I think there is a sense of bonding that happens pretty quickly when they know this is their group.”

Connor Hellebuyck and Lyon are the only two goaltenders currently on the U.S. roster. One more goaltender will be added before the start of the tournament, Johannson said.

“It’s too early to say who might be competing for our starting spot,” he said. “We still have one more to add, but Connor and Alex are two young guys who had great seasons, and we kept an eye on them. One of the things we look for in goaltenders is their ability to compete and those two guys have certainly displayed that.”

Elsewhere, Johannson likes Team USA’s versatility up front, as well as the blend of solid defensemen and mobile puck movers on the blue line.

“We’re very versatile up front,” Johannson said. “We have a lot of forwards who can fill a number of different roles. On the back end, we’re really mobile on defense. We have some really good up-and-down defenders and also good players who excel in their own end, so I think they compliment each other well.”

Mike McMahon is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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