(Photo: Steve McLaughlin/BU Athletics)
After having spent a week practicing at Walter Brown Arena on the Boston University campus in Boston, the team that began with thirty players eliminated three players after their first exhibition game against the Boston University Terriers Men’s Hockey team on Friday, December 19.
That first game looked like Team USA wasn’t going to see much competition, and it wasn’t helped that the Terriers’ best player, Jack Eichel, was playing against them instead of for them. After the first period, which had seen Team USA outshoot the Terriers 15-1 and score two short-handed goals on the same penalty kill just about 30 seconds apart, the Terriers came back and managed to give Team USA a little more of a real game in the second and third periods.
Postgame interviews asked how Terriers’ head coach David Quinn liked having to try to contain Eichel instead of coach him. Quinn was honest in his answer and said he now had an understanding of how the other coaches felt when their teams play against the Terriers. But could it also have been a little USA Jersey awe?
“I don’t think so. We hadn’t skated in a week. We just went through exams. I’m sure some of them—half of their mind is already home. I think there was a lot that went into it,” Quinn told The Pink Puck. “And [Team USA] is good. It’s a heck of a team we played so, I think you add all that up and you get a pretty big discrepancy in the way the period was played. And then I thought we did a really good job of collecting ourselves and putting up a fight to start the second period and got on the board and hung around and made it four to two. That might have been some of it, but I think also the fact that it was just the circumstances.”
However, during a unique opportunity to interview a couple of the Terriers after their Friday morning practice about the upcoming game against Team USA, one of them did allude to the fact that he was pretty sure most of the Terriers were secretly hoping that Team USA won. To their credit, though, in the second and third periods the Terriers did regroup and push back in a much harder manner. And that speaks volumes of the Terriers and the team that Quinn has put together.
The remaining twenty-seven players headed out to Kingston, Ontario where they would play two more exhibition games.
The first took place on Sunday, December 21, against Team Germany. And unlike the Terriers, Team Germany got steamrolled by Team USA. It was predominantly all Team USA all the time. And after the game the team announced that two further players had been cut, leaving them with just one more player to release in order to get to their final roster.
The second of the two games in Kingston took place Tuesday night, December 23, against Team Sweden and it was expected to be a close-scoring game. And while the first period appeared to support that theory as the teams traded goals to end the period with a 3-2 score in favor of the USA, the remainder the game was again an impressive display of USA talent as the final score was 10-5 with Boston College’s Alex Tuch scoring a hat trick and saw Plymouth Whalers’ Sonny Milano getting five points on the night.
After this game, the USA made the last of their cuts, which was perhaps the most difficult for them and for the player, as it was Boston College’s Steve Santini, who spent the practice days in Boston wearing a yellow “no contact” jersey and doing very little as he waited to get the pins removed from his left wrist, which he injured in October. Santini had unfinished business and really wanted to make this year’s team.
“When I first got hurt, I was obviously devastated because this tournament means a lot to me. I thought walking off the ice last year against Russia, I felt like I had unfinished business in this tournament,” Santini told reporters on day one of camp in Boston. “Everything I’ve done since the day I got hurt was to get back and be healthy for this tournament. I’ve come a long way. I’ve been working out five or six times a week and hopefully everything will work out.”
Unfortunately he did not get the pins removed until December 22, and that didn’t leave a lot of time for Santini to practice with the team and begin to gel with a line mate before the first game against Team Finland was to take place on Boxing Day. Perhaps Team USA will use his “unfinished business” and the fact that he couldn’t join them as added motivation during the tournament.
With the release of Santini though, the roster for Team USA was finalized and included Nobles and Greenough Prep School, and late invitee, Miles Wood, who was expected by many to be let go and only at camp for the experience. However, he came to play and has a very level head on his shoulders considering the unique path he has traveled to get where he is.
“I think pressure is all self-induced,” he told The Pink Puck. “I’m here to just have fun and then at the end of the day if I’m there, I’m going to be prepared to go up to Canada and see if we can win the gold.”
And he’s there and he is pulling on the USA jersey to represent his country for the first time when the puck drops against Finland.
“It would be something special. There’s something about doing something for the first time,” he told The Pink Puck, eyes sparkling with enthusiasm. “If I could do that, I’m going to skate a little faster, compete a little harder, so I’m excited for it.”
He certainly has the determination that Team USA is looking for and as they have displayed already in the exhibition games. Of course, those games, while great for experience and to assist in building chemistry among the various lines, do not count in regard to points. That happens with the first game against Finland. But given the approach to the tournament that Team USA has displayed so far, it is likely they will continue to bring resolve and grit.