The Swedes, who fell to the U.S. in the bronze medal game at last winter’s International Hockey Federation Junior World Championships, posted a 4-1 record last week to finish with the best record at the camp. The Americans finished at 3-2, which included a win and two setbacks against Sweden, and a pair of victories over Finland.
The camp opened Sunday, Aug. 7 and started with 44 of the top under-20 men’s hockey players from across the country playing on the White and Blue teams while vying for positions on the U.S. squared that will compete in the 2012 junior worlds, which will take place in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. After split squad wins over Sweden and Finland on the first competitive game of the camp, the U.S. roster was trimmed to 29 players who then participated in three games as a single unit.
The Americans and Swedes will be among the top contenders for the title in Canada, along with defending champion Russia and the Canadians, who finished runner-up in Buffalo.
With 4-1 and 6-4 triumphs over the U.S., and 7-1 and 8-3 victories over Finland, Sweden’s players showed they are serious about making a run at the 2012 title.
“I’ve been listening to our guys who were on the team last winter, and there’s been a lot of talk about payback,” said Swede goaltender Johan Mattsson, who was in nets for both his team’s win over the U.S.. “Our aim in Calgary is to be the No. 1 team. We wanted to make a big impression in these games, and I think we did that.”
The 19-year-old from Stockholm, who will be playing junior hockey for the Sudbury Wolves this winter, made 32 saves in Saturday’s game that saw the U.S. hold a 36-34 edge in shots on goal. In that contest, which was the most exciting of the week, the Americans held a 4-3 advantage, but Sweden scored the final three goals, including an empty-netter to claim the victory.
“We’re like a big family,” said Mattsson, who was drafted this year by the Chicago Blackhawks. “We are a tight group with the objective of winning the gold medal in Canada. We always skate 100-percent of the time, and if somebody isn’t skating 100 percent, other guys let him know. We had a very successful camp here.”
The U.S. began the camp with a Blue and White team, which both notched wins on the opening day of international exhibition games Monday, Aug. 15. The Blue topped Sweden in overtime 4-3 and the White defeated Finland. After the American roster was pared down to 29 players Tuesday, Aug. 16, the U.S. fell to Sweden 4-1 the following day in a game that saw the Swedes take a 3-0 edge. The U.S. followed with a 4-1 triumph over Finland and then dropped the final matchup of the camp.
The Americans also had a successful camp as coaches got a look at players in game situations while continuing the decision-making process to see which players will be in the United States lineup for the Junior World Championships, which will take place Dec. 26, 2011 to Jan. 5, 2012.
Kenny Agostino, a forward from Flanders, N.J. who plays for Yale University, was the top scoring American at the camp, notching 3 goals and 7 assists in 6 games played, which included a game between the Blue and White squads.
Seth Jones, a defensman from Plano, Texas, was the youngest American in the camp at age 16, and said it was an eye-opening week for him in Lake Placid.
“Obviously, I want to be on this team in December,” Jones said. “I laid it all out there, and I think I did a pretty good job showcasing my talent. I learned that there are a lot of good players out there from all around the world. We all have the same goal, and that’s winning in Calgary.”
The American players will soon be heading to their respective colleges and junior teams, while many of Sweden’s skaters will reunite for another tournament in Moscow to face teams including defending champion Russia and the Czech Republic.
Minnesota resident Dean Blais will be the head coach of the 2012 United States Junior National Team at the championships. The final U.S. roster will be selected in late December following a pre-tournament training camp that will be held in Alberta.
Lou Reuter/Lake Placid News
From left, Sweden’s Rickard Rakell, Jonas Brodin and Mike Zibanejad converge on American forward Kenny Agostino during Saturday’s game at the Olympic Center.