By Kevin Allen, USA TODAY
The proof of the potential of this year's U.S. junior hockey team
lies in the anguish that coach Lou Vairo feels in not choosing some
players whose talent level was strong enough to make the team in
"Player selection is the one reason why I didn't want to coach this
team," Vairo says. "It's so hurtful to leave off some of these good
players. It's awful."
The U.S. team will compete Dec. 26-Jan. 5 at the world junior
championships in Nova Scotia. Much like the Kentucky Derby brings
together the best 3-year-old horses, this event pits the world's best
teenage hockey players against each other. NHL stars Peter Forsberg,
Mike Modano and Sergei Fedorov established their potential in the
The Americans have never won gold, which is why U.S. officials hope
Vairo's decisions are cause for optimism. At worst, this team is
viewed as a medal contender. At best, it's considered one of the
USA's most talented junior teams.
Goaltenders Ht., wt. Team
Bob Goepfert 5-10, 165 Providence College
Jimmy Howard 6-1, 204 Maine
Tim Gleason 6-0, 199 Windsor (OHL)
Matt Greene 6-3, 224 North Dakota
Matt Jones 6-0, 214 North Dakota
Mark Stuart 6-2, 220 Colorado College
Ryan Suter 6-1, 172 U.S. under-18 team
Ryan Whitney 6-4, 200 Boston University
James Wisnewski 5-11, 197 Plymouth (OHL)
Dustin Brown 6-1, 203 Guelph (OHL)
Patrick Eaves 5-11, 174 Boston College
Gino Guyer 5-11, 180 Minnesota
Dwight Helminen 5-10, 184 Michigan
Chris Higgins 5-11, 192 Yale
Ryan Kesler 6-2, 185 Ohio State
Greg Moore 6-1, 208 Maine
Eric Nystrom 6-1, 195 Michigan
Patrick O'Sullivan 5-10, 184 Mississauga (OHL)
Zach Parise 5-10, 170 North Dakota
Brett Sterling 5-8, 165 Colorado College
Ryan Shannon 5-9, 179 Boston College
Barry Tallackson 6-4, 196 Minnesota
"We have been right there (in recent years)," Vairo says. "We have
been really competitive. My feeling is we get pretty good
goaltending. We play well in every tournament, but we have to score."
Forwards include first-round draft picks Chris Higgins of Yale and
Eric Nystrom of Michigan. Higgins led the USA in scoring at last
year's tournament, and Nystrom is a top performer. Also of note:
North Dakota freshman Zach Parise, former NHL player J.P. Parise's
son, leads the nation in scoring, and Patrick Eaves, Wisconsin coach
Mike Eaves' son, is Boston College's top scorer.
Strong in the net
Goaltending is considered a strength with Maine's Jim Howard and
Providence's Bob Goepfert vying to be No. 1. The fact Vairo didn't
select Michigan's prize freshman, Al Montoya, speaks to how
impressive the two have been.
"Montoya was good enough, but this is a 19-year-old tournament and he
will get his chance," Vairo says.
Howard has created a stir this season by posting a 7-1 record with a
1.33 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in his first
eight games. He set a Maine record with 193 minutes, 45 seconds of
shutout hockey. Howard was the goaltender in the U.S. under-18 team's
3-1 victory against Russia that clinched the gold medal last summer.
"He's big, fast, smart, confident and humble," Vairo says. "All in
one. He's the real deal. Goepfert also has played well."
Accent on defense
Whoever is No. 1 will benefit from a talented defense, led by first-
round draft picks Tim Gleason and Ryan Whitney, plus Ryan Suter, son
of 1980 U.S. Olympian Bob Suter and nephew of ex-NHL player Gary
Suter. Vairo says Suter could be one of the best defensemen to come
out of the U.S. program.
Vairo told players at the preseason camp they could earn a spot on
the team by playing well there or in early-season games. He patterned
his evaluation process after the one Herb Brooks used for the 2002
U.S. Olympic team.
"We left some good players off with good reputations, but they didn't
perform at either place," Vairo says. "(The process) was upfront. ...
There are no excuses. We got the team we wanted."