The U.S. has the talent to win its first World Junior Championship
Before flying to Helsinki for the World Junior Championships, which run from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5, the U.S. players came together as a complete team for the first time last week in New York City. Sitting down to dinner, the 22-member squad, made up mostly of college players, immediately clicked. "The chemistry is unbelievable," says forward Zach Parise, a sophomore at North Dakota. "The second we got together, everyone was laughing and having a good time."
The good times should continue because the loaded U.S. roster is the tournament favorite. In the 27-year history of the world juniors, a 10-team affair for players 16-19 years old, the Americans have won only three medals—two bronze (in 1986 and '92) and one silver ('97).
The major advantage the U.S. has this year is experience: Not only are most of its members accustomed to high-level competition, but many have also been teammates, even linemates, at other times. Eight players return from last year's U.S. squad, which finished fourth, and 13 were members of the 2002 under-18 tournament team that shocked Russia in the gold medal game.
Parise, who averaged more than a point a game at last year's world juniors, is the U.S. team's top offensive player, and Wisconsin's Ryan Suter and Colorado College's Mark Stuart are talented playmaking defensemen.
If there is a weakness on the club, it could be in goal. After No. 1 netminder Jimmy Howard of Maine sprained his left knee last week, he was replaced by Michigan State's Dominic Vicari, who has no international experience. The new No. 1 goalie is Al Montoya, who started as a freshman at Michigan last season, but he has not proved himself at this level either.
Nevertheless, Parise and his teammates are confident that they have the talent to win. "We know what to expect now," says Parise, "and we're not shy going in."
Hockey Family Tradition
Getting Great Roommates
Jeff Tambellini, the third generation of his family to represent Canada in international hockey, is following in the footsteps of his dad, Steve, in more ways than one. During Canada's selection camp for the World Junior Championships last week, Jeff, a 19-year-old forward, lived with 16-year-old sensation Sidney Crosby (SI, Nov. 10). In the 1978 championships Steve roomed with the 16-year-old prospect to whom Crosby is most often compared—Wayne Gretzky. The Great One was named the best forward of that tournament, and 25 years later all eyes are on Crosby, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's leading scorer at week's end.
"I've been impressed with the way Sidney has handled himself," says Steve, the Canucks' VP of player personnel. "Jeff says they've become good friends, which is important when you go through [a tournament] like this."