PENTICTON, B.C. – Gold medallist in its last two World Junior A Challenge appearances, the United States is back looking for a three-peat in the Okanagan.
Three years after making their debut in Trail, B.C., the Americans come into the 2010 tournament having never missed the podium, taking home bronze from its inaugural appearance in 2007 before winning the top prize in 2008 in Camrose, Alta. and 2009 in Summerside, P.E.I.
“When we first came to this event three years ago, we didn’t really know what to expect,” says Marc Boxer, the team’s general manager since its first appearance in Trail. “We have gravitated to become a more puck-moving, up-tempo team, and that has helped us compete.”
The American roster boasts its fair share of talent, with 20 of the 23 players – all of whom play in the United States Hockey League – already committed to NCAA schools, along with six NHL draft picks. With that type of skill, Boxer admits ego could have been an issue.
“The coaching staff has done an amazing job breaking barriers,” he says. “They have united these players, who are all major contributors on their respective teams, and had them buy into what we’re teaching.”
While the six drafted players – led by San Jose third-rounder Max Gaede – have received attention, the biggest name on the U.S. roster might be 6-foot-2, 211-pound forward Seth Ambroz, projected by many to be a first-round selection at the 2011 NHL Draft.
The 17-year-old says he has heard the talk, and knows the 2010 World Junior A Challenge will be heavily attended by NHL scouts, but tries not to overthink.
“Scouts or no scouts, I still have to play the way that makes me successful – play a rough and rugged style and work hard,” he says. “I don’t want to think too much about who’s watching. You don’t want to be out there gripping your stick too tight.”
The book on Ambroz is that he is big and powerful and knows how to score goals, something that should come in handy as the Americans chase an unprecedented World Junior A Challenge three-peat.
And despite the fact the U.S. has lost just two games in the last two years – only once in regulation time – the New Prague, Minn. native says he and his teammates still tend to look north of the border for motivation.
“Junior and minor hockey is strong in the United States, but we still look to the Canadians and their success at all levels of hockey,” Ambroz says.
Boxer echoes those sentiments.
“We look to the Canadian events and the level of success the teams have at all levels have and how well-run the events are, including the World Junior A Challenge. Every country needs to bring their best game against Canada, and in Canada.”