It wasn’t the outcome that Team USA expected or hoped for, but it was a commendable effort by the youngest of sixteen teams at the 2014 IIHF World Championship.
Numerous positive thoughts and feedback were conveyed by the youthful group of U.S. players who represented their country at the seventeen-day international tournament in Minsk, Belarus.
“It was a lot of fun, a valuable experience for me,” said Tampa Bay Lightning rookie of the year candidate and Team USA leading goal scorer, Tyler Johnson. “I really enjoyed my time here and Belarus was an unbelievable place to visit.”
“It was a great experience, I think a lot of young guys stepped up and played big roles,” said Johnson’s linemate Brock Nelson, who along with Craig Smith were the team’s most productive line.
The U.S. was eliminated in the quarterfinal by the Czech Republic, 4-3, concluding the tournament with a record of 4-1-0-3 (W-OTW-OTL-L), finishing second in group B, behind the 2014 world champions, Russia. Team USA’s 27 goals was third overall in the preliminary round, trailing only Canada and Russia.
“You have to take this as a positive and go back to work in the summer and carry it over to next year,” said Nelson, who also just finished his rookie year with the New York Islanders. “Hopefully, I’ll see some of these guys again in tournaments in the upcoming years.”
“Our group was extremely young and I’m very proud of the way we played this tournament,” said U.S. head coach Peter Laviolette. “It’s disappointing (losing in the quarterfinal), but a lot of guys responded in a real positive way.”
Team USA featured 15 players making their world championship debuts, although six skated together on the 2013 gold-medal winning World Junior Championship team, including 19-year-old defenseman Seth Jones.
Jones continued his impressive international play leading all defenseman at the tournament in points (11) and assists (9), skating in eight games. The Nashville Predator was named the tournament’s Best Defenseman, in addition to being voted onto the tournament All-Star Team.
Another bright spot for the U.S., was the skillful and creative offensive play of Hobey Baker Award winner, Johnny Gaudreau, who was second on the team in scoring with 10 points (2G, 8A). It was the first time playing in a major international tournament for the 20-year-old rising talent.
“This was my first opportunity to work firsthand with Johnny and he’s a very, very impressive talent for the United States,” said U.S. head coach Peter Laviolette of Gaudreau. “He’s also a terrific person off the ice and on the ice, he displays a tremendous amount of talent with his offensive skills.”
Laviolette, who guided his third world championship team, but first since 2005, said he is always grateful for the opportunity to lead Team USA on the international stage.
“It’s a great experience and a great opportunity,” said the 51-year-old Laviolette, who will coach in Nashville next season. “I’m thankful that my phone rings every so often from USA Hockey and I get the chance to coach internationally.”
Laviolette also praised his three assistant coaches: Joe Sacco, Phil Housley and Don Granato, among others.
“The coaches worked their tails off and that’s the great thing about this tournament, you get to work with a new equipment guy, a new coach or a new team manager,” Laviolette said. “You continue to open relationships with new people and see new players that you’ve never coached.”
Key leadership also came from veteran goaltender Tim Thomas, who represented the U.S. at the world championship for the seventh time. The former Stanley Cup champion and two-time Vezina Trophy winner started all eight games for the U.S., earning five victories and twice missing a shutout, allowing only one goal.
“I saw this as an opportunity to get to know some of the younger generation of American players,” Thomas said of his experience in Belarus.
“When I was younger, I got to play with Kevin Stevens, Joe Sacco, Darby Hendrickson, I could go on and on,” said the 40-year-old netminder. “Now being older and playing with these younger guys, I’m familiar with a 30-year generation of U.S. hockey players, so that’s kind of cool.”
The United States remains sixth in the IIHF World Rankings. Next May, at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in Prague/Ostrava, Czech Republic, the U.S. will play the preliminary round in Ostrava, grouped with familiar foes Russia, Finland and Slovakia.
Follow Brian on Twitter - @Brian_Pinelli