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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Team USA at the Ivan Hlinka: Analysis

Today is an off-day for the four teams playing in the semifinal games at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Piestany, Slovakia, so I figured it was a good time to call your attention to some of the players on the Team USA squad that went 2-1 in round robin play for Group A and could have gone undefeated if not for a 6-5 shootout setback to Russia on day 2.

The Americans have done better than anticipated thus far given that they don't send their top talent from the U.S. NTDP to the Hlinka, allowing for players outside of Ann Arbor to get a crack at some international play. Last year, some notable 2010 draft names who played on the USA team (which failed to medal) were: Nick Bjugstad, Kevin Hayes, Charlie Coyle and B's prospect Zane Gothberg to name a few, but there weren't many on this year's squad with the first-round pedigree of Bjugstad, Hayes and Coyle. So, big names from the U.S. Under-18 Team like Brandon Saad, J.T. Miller, Adam Clendening, Tyler Biggs, Mike Paliotta, Matt Nieto and Rocco Grimaldi just for starters weren't put on the Hlinka roster, which speaks to how well this team, coached by Rhode Island native Tim Army, has played in Slovakia.

In fact, of all 70 of Red Line Report's top-70 players on the list they published in their June draft guide for the 2011 NHL draft, only Seth Ambroz (10th) made the cut out of the Americans on the list (and there are quite a few!)

They'll play a potent and deep Swedish team Friday, and if they prevail will meet the winner of Canada-Czech Republic in the title match on Sunday.

As for the Americans, Ambroz is the focal point of the team's offense, and has been a big name (pun intended) for the 2011 draft class since he emerged as a dominant force out of New Prague H.S. (Minnesota) at the Select 15 Festival back in July, 2008. He's big, nasty, can skate pretty well (although his feet are a bit heavy and his agility isn't high-end), and has that hard, powerful shot that NHL scouts salivate over. He establishes body position down low, and few people can move him. He's a legitimate power forward prospect, and is primed for a big year in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers.

They got a strong game in net from Steve Michalek (not to be confused with fellow draft eligible netminder Matt Mahalak) who made 26 saves in the win over Finland. The Glastonbury, Connecticut native plays for Loomis-Chafee and has an opportunity to raise his profile against Sweden tomorrow. His hands will be full for sure.

Here is a quick look at some of the other players on the U.S. squad in Slovakia who you could be hearing a lot more from this season:

Cason Hohmann, RW-- It's a shame he's so small because he does everything else so well: a superb skater and offensive talent who can both set up the play and finish, and a real abrasive sonuvagun to play against. He left his native Arlington, TX to play for the storied Detroit Compuware midget major program and is now with the USHL's Cedar Rapids Rough Riders before going to BU. He's been a real productive presence and strong two-way player for the Americans in this tourney.

John Gaudreau, RW-- He's not quite the agitating presence Hohmann is, but Gaudreau is cut from a similar cloth: big man trapped in a small man's body who is explosive and can really score. Like Hohmann, he's headed to Boston for his NCAA play, but Gaudreau will be at Northeastern instead of Commonwealth Ave. His dad was a star for Norwich in the late-70's and the younger Gaudreau will be challenged more this season as he leaves the comfort of home for the rough-and-tumble USHL.

Lukas Sutter, F-- When Rich Sutter played for the St. Louis Blues in the early 90's, his son was born there, and although Lukas is a native Albertan, his dual citizenship gave him an opportunity to play for the USA. He's got above average size (6-1, 210), but has the two-way game, offensive presence and hockey sense you look for. Sutter is raw and a project, but has reportedly played pretty well in Slovakia. He's going to play for the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL this season. Unfortunately, he's an Oct. '93 birthdate, meaning he won't be eligible for the NHL draft until 2012.

Vincent Trocheck, C-- The Pennsylvanian and former Little Caesar's midge major star now plays for Saginaw of the OHL. He's another undersized, but dynamic and abrasive presence who could be a player to watch in the 'O' this season. He's one of the U.S. team's more talented guys, but has yet to really get it going in the tourney. They could use a Trocheck breakout game against Sweden.

Connor Murphy, D-- He proves the apple doesn't fall far from the tree as the son of former NHL rearguard and Bruin Gord Murphy. He's got dad's size (6-3, 195) and is a pretty good skater (though gangly and needing improvement in his footwork) but can see the ice well and is a solid puck mover. The Dublin, Ohio native is also the team captain, so he brings some nice intangibles to the mix as well.

Craig Duininck, D- Solid, unspectacular but game for any challenge. That's how I'd qualify Plymouth, Michigan's Duininck, who was on the Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires last spring and has a wealth of junior experience and stay-at-home savvy for the Americans. He plays a sound defensive game with physical bite, and even though he's not a great fighter, won't back down from a challenge.

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