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New-Look U.S. Men’s National Team Hopes To Make Noise In Return To World Championships

By Tom Robinson | May 21, 2021, 5:26 p.m. (ET)

Justin Abdelkader of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the New York Rangers on Nov. 6, 2019 in New York City.

 

The International Ice Hockey Federation’s Men’s World Championship is starting about the same time it normally would be ending, but that is a minor change in the hockey landscape compared to last year when the world championship could not be held at all.
                
The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic made it impractical for the 2020 tournament to be go on as scheduled in Switzerland. The pandemic’s impact is appearing to diminish, but it is still being felt, creating some competitive uncertainties going into the May 21-June 6 tournament in Riga, Latvia.
                
Quarantines, pandemic restrictions and personal preferences on international travel are among the reasons rosters are taking shape differently, trending toward younger players and less active National Hockey League players. Just one player, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Christian Wolanin, returns from the most recent U.S. world championship team in 2019.
                
“It’s a different year and a different type of tournament,” said Conor Garland, an Arizona Coyotes forward who is a part of the U.S. Men’s National Team for the first time. “Usually, you see a lot of big names and all these teams kind of load up. This year, it’s a little different where it’s a lot of young guys, a lot of new names and it kind of looks like it’s anybody’s tournament.
                
“It’s exciting that if you play well, you’re going to have a really good chance to win this thing.”
                
Team USA opens its tournament May 22 at 9:15 a.m. ET against 2019 champion Finland and comes back the next day to play 2019 finalist Canada. 
                
In addition to playing with the top two finishers of the most recent world championship, the United States is part of the eight-team Group B that also includes Germany, Norway, Italy, Kazakhstan and host Latvia. Being in the group with the host country puts the United States in Arena Riga, a 10,300-seat facility that is the larger of the two venues being used.
                
Group A consists of Russia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Denmark, Great Britain and Belarus — which had originally been scheduled to co-host the tournament with neighboring Latvia. Russia, Czech Republic and Sweden finished third, fourth and fifth in 2019.
                
Team USA is coming off a seventh-place finish in 2019 but has been a regular medal contender in recent years. The U.S. earned bronze in 2013, 2015 and 2018, its best medal stretch since 1939-53. The U.S. has won six bronze medals since winning its most recent gold medal in 1960. 
                
Longtime NHL veteran Justin Abdelkader has been named team captain, his second time serving in that role at worlds. Abdelkader also served as captain during the world championship in Minsk, Belarus, in 2014. An 11-year member of the Detroit Red Wings, Abdelkader played in a short 2021 Swiss National League season, helping EV Zug to the title.
                
On a team with 10 newcomers to international play, Abdelkader’s experience in two world championships, two World Junior Championships and a World Cup of Hockey — should prove valuable. Matt Roy and Colin Blackwell will be alternate captains for coach Jack Capuano’s team. Roy, a Los Angeles Kings defenseman, and Blackwell, a New York Rangers forward, are among the players who are new to Team USA.
                
“It’s just been a whirlwind,” Roy said in a Thursday phone interview from Latvia where the team has been practicing since completing its quarantine. “I’ve been meeting a lot of new people, which is fun, and we’re just ready to get the competition going.”
                
Dallas Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who came up through the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, has two gold medals and two bronzes to show for his four ventures into international competition. Oettinger was a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft.
                
The U.S. roster also includes an Olympian, Ryan Donato, who played in the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. Donato, a second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, is a San Jose Sharks forward. U.S. General Manager Chris Drury is a three-time Olympian as a player, helping the U.S. to silver medals in 2002 and 2010.

Tom Robinson

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