Bruins 2011 Draft Watch is pleased to bring you an interview we did with Chris Peters, the play by play commentator for the FASTHockey.com broadcasts of Team USA games at the World Under-18 Championship in Crimmitschau, Germany. He was a one-man show over there and did a great job to bring a passionate and informed call of the Team USA games.
Chris knows the NTDP inside and out, having spent the previous three years as the team's communications and marketing director and brings great knowledge of the program and players in addition to his own passion for hockey.
Chris is also the publisher of the outstanding hockey blog The United States of Hockey. If you haven't bookmarked it, you should. When it comes to American NTDP and NCAA players, it is one of the best resources out there given his background, knowledge and familiarity with so many players who are in Ann Arbor or graduated from the program and are out in the NCAA and pro ranks.
We had a long talk about Team USA and the outstanding performance they had in Germany to win a consecutive third gold medal at the annual IIHF spring competition. It was the first time for any USA Hockey team to three-peat in an IIHF event, and the American players made it their mission to achieve this first.
Without further ado, we'll bring you Chris Peters in his own words
Bruins 2011 Draft Watch: Having been a part of the NTDP, was it a little strange for you to be there not as a member of the team but as a broadcaster and part of the media?
Chris Peters: Yes and no- there were a few differences that made for a new experience, but I knew the staff and I knew the kids (from their time on the Under-17 team a year ago), so I didn't feel like an outsider. At the same time, I tried to maintain a safe distance and didn't want to try and be a part of the staff.
It was nice for me to see the difference for the players from year one to two and how they had grown. It was great to see how much bigger and better they've gotten since their time on the Under-17 squad and doing this allowed me to see that process and be a part of it. Most times, a broadcaster will parachute in, do a few interviews and is gone, but I was always with them, and that was the unique thing about the process.
It was a lot of fun- everyone wanted to make sure I got what I needed and it was just a great time given the way everything went.
B2011DW: Before we get to the specific players, can you talk about the program and team, the coaches and so on- what do you attribute the success the NTDP has had to?
CP: I think this team was unique. They didn't have three main lines to do the scoring for them; they counted on everyone to give them the offense they needed and make the plays in any situation. They had seven effective players on defense, not one guy who can be out there in any situation, or at least that was the perception. I remember that when they had the selection for these players two years ago, the team was put together knowing that they weren't assembling high-end skill guys at every position. Sure, you had players like Rocco Grimaldi and J.T. Miller up front, but you also had guys like Adam Reid, who played on the fourth line (in Germany) but had three goals, and Dan Carlson who also made contributions to the successful tournament.
This was the first team that I can recall in the last several years that was made up completely of NTDP kids. It worked well because they had great chemistry, were really tight as a group and had played together for a long time.
I would also add that (coach) Ron Rolston deserves a heck of a lot of credit. Two years ago, when he was coaching the '91 group at the Under 18s, not a lot of people expected them to win it on home soil in North Dakota. I think people said they were a favorite, but they were not the favorite. At the end of it, they won it all, just like they did this time around in Germany, with a completely different team. He gets the most out of the talent he has to work with and his work and preparation is unbelievable. He's one of the most cerebral coaches I've seen- he knows his players and teams and understands how to get them to play disciplined, winning hockey. I don't think he gets enough recognition for how good a coach he is.
B2011DW: John Gibson- tournament top goalie and a major reason why USA won it all. What are your thoughts on him?
CP: With Gibson, he's been overshadowed by Jack Campbell. But Gibby didn't have the same opportunities Jack did in terms of being an underager at the Under 20, winning a couple of golds at the Under 18 in 2009 and 2010, but they are similar players. Gibson is so athletic, so composed. He instills a lot of confidence in the skaters, too- the defensemen know that they can take some chances with him back there as the last line of defense. He's not the best puckhandler, though he did move it a little, but he kept things simple for the most part. He bailed out the 'D' with big saves, and even when he gave up a goal, his body language was terrific. He just oozed confidence and when his teammates saw that, they realized that everything was fine and they were still in position to win the game. When you see that kind of calm in your goalie, I think it relaxes you to the point that you can go out and believe that you'll get the lead back on the next shift, and it's huge.
B2011DW: Did J.T. Miller's performance there solidify him as a first-round pick in your view?
CP: It's funny, because the first couple of games with J.T. I thought that aside from the points, he actually didn't play all that well. However, as the tournament went on, he became more and more of a force, and I think he bought into playing gold medal hockey. He really picked it up because as other teams focused on stopping Rocco Grimaldi, Miller started getting a lot of looks as a result to the respect given to Rocco, and that opened things up for J.T. It gave him a chance to put his stamp on the tournament in terms of being physical, playing smart, keeping it simple and being patient. One play that really stands out to me is the gold medal game when he made the pass to Reid Boucher for the tying goal. Rocco was breaking to the net as well, but he was a lot closer to Miller, and would have had to beat a few guys to get into scoring position. Miller held the puck and waited that extra second for 'Bouch' to break into the clear and then sent it across the ice to him in the perfect spot for him to make the play.
When Miller is thinking right, he's so good. It's the best I've seen him play. I think that maybe earlier in the season, Miller was under too much pressure to be the focal point of the offense on that top line and it wasn't going in for him. He was probably pressing more than he should have. But here, he kept things simple and used his skills and smarts to make some big plays when his team needed them.
B2011DW: You mentioned Reid Boucher...he had a tremendous tournament. Based on what you know and have seen, how good is this kid?
CP: Wow, yeah. The thing Reid brings to the table every single night regardless is the ability to score from anywhere. When I look at his pure scoring ability, I would say that it's the best I've seen in the program. Ever. Jeremy Morin was close, but honestly I would say that Boucher is better in terms of his release, his accuracy and his big-game ability to put the puck in the net when the game is on the line. I talked to Ron Rolston about it and he agreed that Boucher is up there; he knew Phil Kessel before I arrived to the program, but he's in that kind of company. The big thing about what he did in Germany is that of his eight goals, only two of them didn't factor into the game. I know one of those goals came against Slovakia in a blowout, but just about everything else had a big impact on the wins. The thing is- when you play with Rocco, you're going to get a lot of looks. And Bouch's skating has improved to where he can get in position to make the play with a guy so dynamic. If Bouch is with a pass-first playmaker, he could score 40 goals one day.
B2011DW: Speaking of Rocco, the numbers weren't there for Grimaldi because he got so much attention, but he seemed to contribute in other ways- defensively, the PK, etc. What did you see?
CP: I agree with that. I think that for a few games he maybe wasn't as engaged as much defensively, but that was probably because they needed him to be an offensive presence. One of the things he did that really jumped out at me was the work Rocco did on faceoffs. He won some big draws at key moments. One play that stood out happened in the Canada game, when Travis Ewanyk was winning something like 80 percent of the faceoffs and was just a monster. There was a draw in Canada's end and Ewanyk won it, but Grimaldi got in on him, knocked him off the puck and then Miller was able to get it to Bouch for a goal. Rocco's mindset all along was that even if he lost the faceoff, which wasn't often, he was going to track the puck and still try and get there first.
I think he want to be better in the tournament at the goal scoring and production, but teams made a concerted effort not to let Rocco beat them. Even then, he found ways to get it done. The Connor Murphy goal at the beginning of the third period against Sweden was a good example- Grimaldi's pass out front to him for the shot that went in was perfect with the way he one-touched to him, but the bigger thing I noticed when I went back and looked at the film was the way he protected the puck, shielded it so that the defender had no chance to prevent it from getting to Murphy. We expected to see more offensively from him, but in the end, he did a lot of things that helped the team win and that's what's most important to him.
B2011DW: Let's shift gears to the defensemen for a bit. Robbie Russo seemed to have just the right performance and the absolute right time and looked so confident out there. You thoughts on Robbie and his play?
CP: Robbie's always been a confident kid. He may have been a little frustrated at the way things went for him this season, but in this tourney he just took over games. If the puck was in his zone his attitude was that he was going to get it, or if the other team had it, he was going to take it away from them.In the offensive zone, he was outstanding with his vision and patience and ability to pass the puck to the right guy at the right time. He also had the ability to create space for himself- he would have the puck coming out of his end and he had the skill and patience to swing back into the zone and come back out with speed. This was the best I've seen him- he was calm under pressure, there was no panic level in his game; he just kept it simple, made the smart play and tried not to be flashy. His skating is really good- he was an easy choice as one of the three top players for USA in my opinion. Another thing- he started out on the point of the power play, but they moved him against the wall, which worked out great, shifting Rocco to the point. Robbie was incredible on the wall in terms of creating lanes, going up and down the boards, and then he would spin around, throw off his man and open up the lane. He had a tremendous tournament, and I can't say it enough.
B2011DW: And Connor Murphy? Another kid who really helped himself?
CP: Absolutely! He's one of the smartest kids out there and the fact that his instincts are so good even though he hasn't played a lot of hockey over the past two-and-a-half years is saying a lot about him. I don't think he's played more than maybe 15 games in that span prior to the tourney because of injuries, and yet he still had time to be that good? It makes me wonder if he can stay healthy how good he can be. He's real good with his stick defensively, clogging up lanes and he not a physical guy, but he can take hits and will take them to make the play. I noticed this a lot against Canada, where they really seemed to go after him. He's got a very nice skill package and game, and the injury thing is really the only obstacle I think to where he might be drafted, whether it happen for him in the first round or maybe a little later. But the thing about Connor and the other kids with dads who played pro hockey is that they understand what they need to do to make it to be a professional. They've been around the game, carry themselves so well and are pretty serious and mature about it. Connor is one of those guys who just really impresses you in interviews with his intelligence and manner.
B2011DW: OK- last question. Tyler Biggs. He's been the internet whipping boy of late, but is it deserved?
CP: The thing with Tyler is that he was completely mis-labeled to begin with as a top-10 pick for a guy who plays the way he does. That said, I still feel there is value to him in the first round. After last year, I had a higher opinion of his offensive upside coming into this season than he's showed- I was thinking that he maybe had a 20-25 goal upside. I'm not sure he'll be successful with that because he doesn't have great hands. He may not skate all that fast, but he's a powerful skater who closes on guys real well and his north-south game is really good.
He was not done any favors with that 5th-best prospect ranking from Central Scouting at mid-term, and he's been dinged up this year too, but he plays through it without complaining. Thing is, if you went to see him when he wasn't at his best, then you probably weren't seeing the kind of performance he's capable of. He's a good leader and plays a determined style of hockey. He played on a line with Travis Boyd- he's a real good player and a guy I think is underrated (by Central). He's not real fast, but is very skilled and made a lot of creative plays. Biggs also skated with Nic Kerdiles, so there was some talent on that line, and I would say that in the last two games, that was as good a unit as the Boucher-Grimaldi-Miller line. Biggs can play defensively, is tough and works hard at his game.
Again, I think there is first-round value for him, but expectations were set too high for the style of player he is.
B2011DW wants to thank Chris for taking the time to have such a productive chat. We'll have to do it again sometime.
Be sure to visit his blog if you have not done so already!