SYDNEY, Nova Scotia - To say a tournament schedule that demands seven games in eight days in order for a team to have a shot at a championship is exhausting, would be an understatement. After hard-fought victories in three-straight games, the U.S. Men’s National Under-17 Team faces Canada's Team Atlantic, the host province, tonight at Centre 200 in Sydney, Nova Scotia. The game will mark Team USA's fourth-in as many days. As always, the players and staff remain focused on recovery and playing within its system.
“It’s important to stay mentally strong, mentally tough, and be focused,” said Don Granato, head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Under-17 Team, after last night’s 14-1 victory over Germany. “We’ve played well in our previous games but now we need to work even harder to be successful.”
Mental fortitude has been a point of emphasis for Team USA throughout the tournament, being able to put a block on any fatigue from such a hectic game schedule.
“We’ve been working a lot on staying focused and on task,” said Luke Opilka (St. Louis, Mo.), the winning goalie versus Germany. “Mental toughness is important if we want to succeed and the team has been keeping each other going.”
Tonight’s contest pits undefeated Team USA against Atlantic, who dropped its only game of the tournament so far to a talented Ontario team, who the U.S. will square off with on Thursday (Jan. 2).
“It’s another game against another tough Canadian team,” said Joseph Masonius (Spring Lake, N.J.). “We’ve been going over game plans since last night and hopefully we can come out strong.”
With Atlantic compiling its roster of players from Nova Scotia and nearby Newfoundland and New Brunswick, a crowd of over 4,000 is expected in Centre 200 tonight.
“That’s what we live for, to play in front of crowds like this, and it’s exciting,” said Christian Evers (Waukee, Iowa.). “To wear the USA jersey in front of so many people is all the motivation we need to push forward.”
For certain, representing the United States on such a grand stage is something each member of the U17 squad looks forward to, no matter where the game is held.
“We played a game against Sioux Falls (Stampede, of the United States Hockey League), and there was maybe 4,500 people there, so we’ve seen this before,” said Jack Roslovic (Columbus, Ohio.). “Crowds don’t rattle us at all. It’s going to be fun.”
Perhaps that mentality, coupled with experience, is what has led Team USA to its success thus far in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Masonius, who registered three assists against Germany, credits the team’s ability to remain focused on the task at hand, noting each of his teammates knows what is at stake.
“We’re glad to get a day off tomorrow and get some rest, but we have work to take care of first,” the defenseman said. “All that matters is the next game.”
(Cover photo credit: David Leung/Hockey Canada Images)