KOSICE – Scott Gordon is the 48-year-old head coach of Team USA back for a second straight season, and he has a young, greem lineup to work with. This might be a blessing in disguise or the team's biggest fault. Only time will tell.
GM Brian Burke only one player from the Vancouver Olympics, defenceman Jack Johnson. There are also several less heralded NHLers and a couple of collegians again, making this a difficult team to peg.
Ty Conklin and Al Montoya are in the crease, and Jack Campbell of the OHL's Windsor Spitfired comes in as the third goalie. Conklin played at the 2004 and 2005 World Championships, the former well remembered by U.S. fans for the team’s great run to a bronze medal. Conklin was in goal for the two crucial games, a 3-2 win over hosts Czech Republic in the quarter-finals and a 1-0 win over Slovakia in the bronze game. What made those victories special was that both went to shootouts. Conklin has those memories to build on, but they were seven years ago.
As for Montoya, the 26-year-old was drafted sixth overall by the New York Rangers in 2004, one of the highest selections ever used for a goalie. He has, however, not established himself as a top goalie in the NHL, having played only 26 games in his career. Now with the New York Islanders, he played 21 games this year and 21 more with San Antonio in the AHL.
Some of the names are familiar; others not. Mike Komisarek is perhaps the best-known player, but since joining the Toronto Maple Leafs a couple of years ago his play has been less than stellar. Perhaps Burke, his GM in Toronto, is hoping the Worlds can light a fire under the dormant D-man who was so effective in Montreal previously.
Jack Johnson has an excellent pedigree with USA Hockey, having played at least one event every year since 2004 (except for 2008). This includes two U18s, two U20s, one Olympics, and now his fourth World Championships. He was captain last year. Mark Stuart (Atlanta Thrashers) has shown promise, but the rest of the blueline corps is far lesser known – Cam Fowler, Jake Gardiner, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Clay Wilson.
There is a serious dearth of offensive talent up front. Perhaps the most exciting player will be Derek Stepan, captain of the 2010 gold-medal U.S. team at the U20. He has had a sensational rookie season in the NHL with the New York Rangers, starting with his first career game, October 9, 2010, when he became only the fourth player ever to score three goals in his first game. In all, he had 21 goals and was in contention as a finalist for the Calder Trophy.
Jack Skille is another young player who has junior experience with the U.S. but making his senior debut. Yan Stastny, older brother of Paul, has been playing in the KHL this year, while other notable names include Mike Brown (Maple Leafs), Nick Palmieri (New Jersey), and Tim Stapleton (Atlanta).
Chris Kreider, who turns 20 on Saturday, is back for a second year after another season at Boston College. GM Burke is also giving another collegian a chance. Craig Smith, from the University of Wisconsin, was drafted 98th overall by Nashville in 2009.
Scott Gordon has a difficult task, to say the least. His career has not exactly been laden with garlands and trophies, but the former goalie does have a decade behind the bench, and he’ll need every day of that experience to craft a team out of this collection of players from the NHL, minors, Russia, and college. Scoring goals will be a challenge, but the defence is capable and the goaltending might surprise.
Playing in Group C with Austria, Norway, and Sweden, the U.S. should, at the very least, be able to get to the Qualification Round. Still, a medal would be a stunning achievement. Think more fifth to eighth place.