The IIHF World Junior Championships are set for Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Saskatchewan. Last year's tournament was a disappointing one for the United States, as they lost a preliminary-round game to Canada by blowing a 3-0 lead, then bowed out to Slovakia (!?) in the quarterfinals.
To get back on the medal stand, USA Hockey called on an old friend for this year's tournament. Former North Dakota and current Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais has plenty of international experience, and he is very good with young players.
Canada is the defending champion, and they're again playing on home soil (it was in Ottawa last year). No pressure, guys.
Both countries announced preliminary rosters this week, and both have NCAA players at least in position to make the final rosters.
In Canada, UMD freshman defenseman Dylan Olsen is on the preliminary roster. A first-round pick of the Blackhawks this past summer, Olsen has eight assists in 12 games for UMD.
He is joined by Denver sophomore defenseman Patrick Wiercioch. It was inconceivable to me that Wiercioch didn't make the team last year, and he should have a pretty good shot this time around. Wiercioch has 14 goals and 45 points in 49 career games with the Pioneers.
The Canadian World Junior camp is Dec. 13-15 in Regina, Sask. According to sources, both players are expected to miss the Denver-UMD game at the DECC on Dec. 12, as they make their way north for the camp.
Harvard freshman Louis Leblanc is the only other college player on the Canadian roster for that camp.
On the U.S. side, a preliminary roster of 29 will be whittled down during a camp scheduled for Dec. 15-19 in Grand Forks, N.D. UMD recruit Justin Faulk -- now with the U.S. National Team Development Program -- is on the roster, as are a number of current college players. Minnesota's Jordan Schroeder will play in his third World Juniors, and Wisconsin (Derek Stepan, Jake Gardiner, John Ramage), North Dakota (Danny Kristo), and Denver (Matt Donovan) are also represented on the preliminary roster.