International Ice Hockey Federation

In youth we trust

In youth we trust

Young US team shows skills, tops group

Published 18.05.2017 15:38 GMT+2 | Author Andy Potts
In youth we trust
COLOGNE, GERMANY - MAY 7: USA's Clayton Keller #19 celebrates with Andrew Copp #9, J.T. Compher #7 and Daniel Brickley #6 after scoring a third period goal against Denmark during preliminary round action at he 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
The youngest roster at these championships isn't worried about lack of experience as team USA storms into the knock-out phase.

With an average age of just 23, Team USA's roster going into these championships was the youngest of all 16 nations in Paris and Cologne. In the past, that's attracted jibes about 'college kids', but the class of 2017 is comfortable with its youthful status. The overwhelming majority of these players emerged from NCAA competition, highlighting a steady change in the way American hockey players are developed.

And this year's team is also delivering results, shrugging off an opening-night loss to Germany and coming out on top of Group A after posting impressive victories over Russia and Sweden. With a quarter-final match-up against Finland beckoning on Thursday, confidence is high among the young Americans.

Nick Schmaltz is one of the players taking his World Championship bow in Cologne. The 21-year-old North Dakota alumnus is coming off a full season with the Blackhawks and made a promising start at the Worlds before a late hit against Sweden forced him to miss the USA's game against Italy. He's spotting a happy combination of social and sporting trends in the wealth of NCAA experience representing Team USA here.

"I think to start with more and more Americans are getting to go to college, and I think that's pretty cool," he said. "I loved my time at North Dakota. I got more time to work off-ice, developing my strength. And then I got to play in front of my friends from school, which was a pretty cool experience in itself.

"Now we're seeing more NCAA guys going to the NHL and the World Championship. It's exciting, and I hope we can continue that."

Salary cap issues, at least in Chicago, have also played a role in smoothing the pathway from college hockey to the big leagues. Budget constraints are obliging teams to give young talent a chance alongside established stars, and that's helping a new generation to emerge.

"I think over the last couple years, there've been better opportunities [for young players] because of the salary cap and stuff like that," Schmaltz added. "They need young guys to play. Hopefully we can fill that void, bring some energy and contribute as much as we can."

For many youngsters, World Championship hockey becomes habit-forming. Dylan Larkin doesn't celebrate his 21st birthday until July, but is playing at his third World Championship. This time the Michigan graduate is playing with an 'A' on his jersey and, after a rough season in Detroit, he's relishing the additional experience he can gain from these international tours of duty.

"With the year I had, when things didn't go as I wanted them to, coming here and being a leader is a valuable experience. I'm glad I came, we're having a blast with a great group of guys," he said.

"It's also cool that there's a lot of Michigan connections on the team. A lot of us played college hockey for Michigan - Go Blue! - so it's pretty cool that we're well represented here."

Larkin, posted 10 points in the seven group games, helping Team USA beat the Russians to top  spot in Group A. Other youngsters have weighed in with key contributions. Andrew Copp, another Michigan alumnus, grabbed the game-winner in a tight battle with Latvia, and yet another Michigan graduate, J.T. Compher settled a 4-3 verdict against Sweden. Meanwhile Clayton Keller - the team's youngest player - played a big role with five goals and one assist. Aged just 18, and with all of three NHL appearances for the Coyotes under his belt, he is fresh out of Boston University. With the confidence of youth, though, he's adapting fast to his first taste of senior international play.

"It's a great tournament," he said. "There are no bad players here, everyone is skilled and fast. It's great to be here, and I'm just trying to learn as much as I can.

"I don't think it's too hard to adjust. Maybe it takes a few shifts to really get into it, but after that you feel more comfortable and things start to work out."


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