Seven Blackhawk prospects took part in USA Hockey’s recent World Junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, NY from August 6th through the 13th. The camp included an initial roster of 44 Americans as well as teams from Finland and Sweden. Although the U.S. roster is months away from being finalized for the 2012 World Junior Championships to be held in Calgary and Edmonton, beginning December 26th, the camp gives coaches and decision-makers a chance to gauge chemistry among the players as well as test the skaters in certain roles and situations.
The camp opened with a pair of intra-squad scrimmages in which the American invitees were split into two teams: USA Blue and USA White. In the first scrimmage, USA Blue earned the win behind a pair of quick goals by Chase Balisy in the third period. USA White answered the next day, getting out to a 3-0 lead behind two markers from J.T. Miller, and holding onto the lead despite a strong push from Blue late in the game. Both teams then played a third scrimmage against one of the European squads. Blue beat Sweden with an overtime game-winner from Vincent Trochek while White scored three unanswered goals in the second for a 5-3 win over Finland.
The U.S. coaches then cut the split squads down to a single roster of 29 players. Among the 15 players cut were Blackhawk prospects Kevin Hayes and Justin Holl. Hayes (one goal and one assist in three games) was in the mix for a checking role at center, but did not show as much of a physical game as others such as his teammate at Nobles Prep and Boston College, Bill Arnold, nor the versatility of a player like Vincent Trochek. Holl (one goal in three games) faced long odds from the start because there is no shortage of skating ability on the back end for the Americans, particularly with the likes of Jon Merrill, Justin Faulk, and Derek Forbort returning from last year’s bronze medal squad. The newly consolidated Team USA would go on to play three more games, one against Finland and two against Sweden.
The Swedes were the story of the second half of camp, winning their final four matchups against the American and Finnish teams. Three Chicago prospects made big contributions to those victories: winger Ludvig Rensfeldt, center Joakim Nordstrom, and goaltender Johan Mattsson. Rensfeldt scored three goals and five points in five games, playing a prominent role on Sweden’s power play and occasionally getting a shift with the top line of Johan Sundstrom and Johan Larsson. Nordstrom scored four goals in five games and was a key penalty killer, generating several rushes with the team’s aggressive PK unit. Mattsson won both of his starts, allowing just five goals on 58 shots for a .914 save percentage. Expected to suit up in the OHL for Sudbury this season, Mattsson will have earned valuable experience on the North American rink and will be in the mix to be Sweden’s primary goalie when tournament time rolls around.
Team USA finished the camp with a win against Finland and two losses to Sweden in their final three games. Stephen Johns suited up for two of those games, but did not register a point in any of his five appearances during the week. A defenseman with a combo of size at 6’3 and skating ability, Johns’ ticket to the WJC will be his physical game. With the exception of Jarred Tinordi, no other American blueliner played with the same kind of edge as Johns. Fellow-defenseman Adam Clendening, who scored one goal and two assists in six games, was perhaps the biggest surprise among Blackhawk prospects. Well-known for his offensive prowess, he also played well in the defensive zone with an active stick, solid positioning, and even taking the body on a couple occasions. Already one of the better American options in terms of pure offensive ability on the blue line, a more well-rounded game will only help Clendening make his case for a spot on the final roster.
Both Johns and Clendening are strong candidates for the next step, which will be the December selection camp, also in Lake Placid. Players like Hayes and Holl who were cut from the initial roster at this summer camp have not been completely ruled out, but they will face an uphill battle as they try to prove themselves during the first half of the upcoming season. Either way, Blackhawks fans will have the opportunity to catch a number of prospects in action when the puck drops at the WJC on December 26th.
During the 2011 tournament in Buffalo, the Blackhawks were represented by four players; Nick Leddy and Jeremy Morin on Team USA, Dylan Olsen (Canada) and winger Mirko Hofflin (Germany).
Three local products were invited to the camp. T.J. Tynan, an Orland Park native who plays at Notre Dame, was the only one to make it past the cuts. Though a bit undersized, Tynan has had success at every level and this camp was no different. He scored two goals and five points in six games, using his speed and aggressive forechecking to consistently create chances. Forward Mike Mersch from the University of Wisconsin, a native of Park Ridge, and Robbie Russo, a USNTDP defenseman and Westmont native, were among the cuts from the camp.
Recent Blackhawks second round pick Brandon Saad declined an invite to the camp, though it is unknown whether it was related to an injury or some other reason. Saad was among the final cuts from last year’s U.S. team and was thought to have a good shot to make this year’s team.
Goaltender Mac Carruth was also one of the original invites to the camp, but had to withdraw due to injury. He could still be in the mix when the December camp rolls around, but John Gibson and Andy Iles both made strong cases for the back-up job behind Jack Campbell.
In addition to covering the Blackhawks here at TheThirdManIn.com, Brad is also the Blackhawks’ correspondent at HockeysFuture.com.