Expectations high for U.S. junior team

Updated: December 21, 2011, 4:17 PM ET
By Craig Custance

The architect of the U.S. national junior team that will be competing in the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championship was trying to describe the makeup of the team. On one hand, you could argue that it's going to be a team on the smaller side. Scroll down the preliminary roster and you see players like Austin Czarnik (5-foot-8), John Gaudreau (5-7), Kyle Rau (5-8) and T.J. Tynan (5-8). But watch those guys play, and there's nothing small about the way they compete on the ice.

Factor in forwards like 6-3 Austin Watson, 6-2 Brandon Saad, 6-2 Charlie Coyle and 6-4 Nick Bjugstad and big defensemen like 6-7 Jarred Tinordi and 6-5 Derek Forbort and you quickly realize size won't be an issue at all for the Americans.

"It's an interesting mix," Team USA GM Jim Johannson said during a Tuesday phone conversation.

"If I have to say one thing," he concluded, "it is that we skate."

Regardless of size, this is a fast team, and Team USA is looking to medal in three consecutive world junior championships, something that has never happened for USA Hockey in this tournament. It's coming off a bronze, and the fact that last year's third-place finish was a bit of a disappointment shows you how far this program has progressed under the leadership of guys like Johannson and executive director Dave Ogrean. It returns seven players from the bronze-medal team and two from the team that won gold in 2010. This tournament, which will begin Monday and be televised on NHL Network, may not be the national holiday it is in Canada, but the expectations for the Americans are every bit as high.

This is a group that expects its second gold in three years.

It's loaded with recognizable names, even for NHL fans who haven't watched five minutes of junior or college hockey. Players like Jack Campbell, Emerson Etem, J.T. Miller, Saad and Coyle are all closing in on NHL careers.

"The international game has brought amateur and professional hockey closer together, and the world junior has been a big part of that," Ogrean said.

The U.S. team is still shaping up its roster, with three forward spots up for grabs among seven players and four guys battling for the final two spots on defense. After Wednesday night's exhibition game, the final roster will be all but determined, and the focus will turn toward the tournament, which will take place in Edmonton and Calgary.

Here are three storylines to watch: