LAKE PLACID — A week-long under-20 United States National Hockey Team evaluation camp ended Saturday, Aug. 7 on a successful note for the Americans as they skated past Finland 8-3 at the Olympic Center.
The U.S. men finished with a 3-1 record in four exhibition games during the camp. Against Finland, the Americans erased a pair of two-goal deficits to claim the victory and earn a sweep in two matchups against the Finns. The win came one day after the U.S. dropped its only game of the week when it fell 4-1 to Sweden, which also posted a 3-1 mark during the week.
The U.S. began the camp with 44 of the best young hockey players in the nation. That number will be pared down to less than 30 who will be invited back to one more camp in December as the they look to defend their International Hockey Federation Junior World Championship when the tournament takes place in early January in Buffalo.
The ultimate objective of head coach Keith Allaine and his USA Hockey staff is to select a roster of 20 forwards and defensemen and two goalies who will represent the U.S. at the Junior World Championships. The Americans captured the title last year with an overtime victory in the championship game against host Canada. The past week marked the first time the U.S. junior men gathered for a camp in preparation to defend their crown.
“It was tough to tell what kind of team we are going to be because we had so many players moving in and out,” Allaine said. “The goal of the camp was more about learning about the players as individuals. We wanted to see how they react under pressure, how they react when they are tired. It’s a step in the process.”
Finland raced out to a 2-0 lead in the opening period, but the U.S. stormed back by notching eight of the next nine goals scored in the game, including five in the second stanza. The night before, Sweden scored four times on the power play to take a 4-0 edge and only gave up one goal late in the third period as the Americans avoided being shut out. Two of the eight goals the U.S. netted against Finland were with the man advantage.
“We gave up a few too many odd-man rushes in the first period and early in the second, but we bounced back,” Allaine said. “What I did find out is our guys showed resiliency, especially on the heels of the loss to Sweden.”
Before facing their international foes over the week at the Olympic Center, the 44 members of the U.S. camp played three split-squad games against each other. Nick Bjugstad, of Blaine, Minn. led all players at the evaluation camp with seven goals scored in seven games.
Kyle Palmieri, a draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks who is leaving Notre Dame after skating for the Fighting Irish for one season, was the top point-getter at the camp, scoring five goals and notching five assists in six games. Two of Palmieri’s goals came in the finale against Finland.
With the camp completed, the American skaters will soon be heading to their respective college and junior hockey teams to start a new season, while others will continue to train with the U.S. National Under-18 Hockey program. The aim of all 44 players at the recently completed camp is to earn a trip to Buffalo and represent their country while skating against the top talent from around the world.
“It’s awfully tough deciding who will and won’t be invited back,” Allaine said. “We learned a lot about the guys this week. I just met some of these guys for the first time. We had a very successful camp. We got exactly what we wanted out of this camp.”
Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
Anton Lander of Sweden attempts to fend off Brock Nelson at the Olympic Center’s USA Rink.