LAKE PLACID - One of the most famous moments in the history of sports - The Miracle on Ice - marked the beginning of Lake Placid's legacy of being known as a hockey town.
Over the past two decades, another tradition has helped solidify Lake Placid's image as a home for ice hockey in the United States. Each August, USA Hockey has held its annual evaluation camp in the Olympic Village as part of the process of selecting the American team that competes in the IHF Junior World Championships.
This summer's camp ran from Aug. 4-10, and as an added feature this year, Canada joined in on the action along with Sweden and Finland, whose junior national teams have been mainstays here during the past several recent camps.
Photo/Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
Thomas DiPauli of the United States and Canada’s Josh Morrisey put on the brakes as a puck goes airborne during Saturday’s game at the Olympic Center.
The U.S. started the week with 45 prospects in camp, and that number was pared down to 31 of the nation's best players who competed in games during the week against the Swedes, Finns and Canadians. After falling to Sweden in their first game, the Americans won their next two, including Saturday's 5-1 victory over arch-rival Canada.
Obviously, all four national teams want to win their exhibition games, but the bigger focus is on putting together the best squads they can for the world tournament, which this year will be held at the end of December in Sweden. The U.S. will head into the tournament as the defending champions.
"This is the best hockey we have other than the NHL," said Jon Lundin of the Olympic Regional Development Authority describing the quality of players at the camp. "If you can't afford an NHL ticket, when you're watching the exhibition games here, you're watching the future of the NHL. Canada alone had 13 first-round draft picks playing here."
"The most important thing we did this week was get a good look at our kids," U.S. head coach Don Lucia said after his team topped Canada. "When we evaluate our players in bigger games, you get a better bead on your players."
One thing Lucia did find out about his squad was that his players will have to work hard if they want to successfully defend their 2013 Junior World Championship title.
"We're not dynamic. We aren't going to score like other teams," Lucia said. "We have to be kind of that blue collar, lunch pail, come-to-work-each day team. For me, for our whole staff, we feel good about our progress this week."
Although the Canadians and their head coach Brian Sutter were disappointed about falling to the U.S., they realized the week in Lake Placid was just a step toward getting their team ready to compete in Sweden.
"Yeah, we lost a hockey game but we got to evaluate," said Sutter, whose team finished with a 2-1 record. "The great thing about this whole thing is you get to put the guys all together as one. We'd like to see a different result come Christmas time."
This summer marked the return of Canada to the camp schedule for the first time since the mid-1990s, and that proved to be a huge boost to the attendance at the Olympic Center for the exhibition games. Lundin said that during the week, the 10 games played drew approximately 8,000 fans. He said Saturday's USA-Canada matchup was the biggest draw with 2,500 in attendance.
"Short of the NHL, this is as good as it gets," Lundin said. "It's great, great hockey."