SYDNEY, Nova Scotia - In the midst of a blizzard that is hitting the east coast of Canada today, the U.S. National Under-17 Team prepares itself for a rematch with Quebec in its sixth game in seven days at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Despite the wintery conditions outside, Team USA remains calm and confident in its ability to perform in the do-or-die semifinal tonight.
“We should always play with confidence,” said Luke Kunin (Chesterfield, Mo.). “And that includes today against Quebec. We put in our due diligence with our pre-scouting to know our opponent and form a game plan we believe in.”
In such a condensed schedule, and with Team USA’s aggressive and free-flowing game play so far, it’s easy to imagine the toll taken on the players’ energy levels. Off-ice recovery has been a key factor throughout the tournament, combating the tough schedule with structured meal times and plenty of liquids.
“[Athletic trainer] Jason Hodges and [team physician] Girish Paranjape have been helping us to recover,” said Jack Roslovic (Columbus, Ohio). “Making sure we drink our chocolate milk after the game, getting quality sleep and icing are key to prepare our body physically for the next game.”
Confidence and mental focus has been of little concern for the U.S. squad all tournament. After a 6-2 win over Canada's Team Ontario last night that saw two short-handed goals, Team USA is happy to know that the hard work off the ice is paying dividends on it.
“Coach Granato had a good video session before the game against Ontario and mapped out our plan really well,” said Colin White (Hanover, Mass.), who scored two goals, including a short-handed tally, in that contest. “It’s been the same throughout the tournament. As long as we stick to our game plan we’re confident in our play.”
Internalizing adjustments made during pre-game video sessions is indicative of Team USA’s staunch focus since arriving in Nova Scotia last week. The World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is the marquee international event for the U.S. National Under-17 squad and motivation is in no short supply.
“As it gets later in the tournament every point counts and every night we know we need to get that win,” said Kunin. “You have to focus on what you’re doing in the moment, because if you start to think ahead in the tournament, you might not get there.”
While Ontario presented Team USA’s most difficult game to date last night, and with a 6-1 victory over Quebec in pre-tournament play, the U17s know a rematch requires even more preparation to prevent Quebec from exposing familiar weaknesses.
“This game means more to both teams than anything else, because the other game was a pre-tournament and teams improve,” said Christian Evers (Waukee, Iowa.). “This is the real deal. Win or go home.”
It may be easy for Team USA to relax entering a contest against a team they have already defeated once before, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. is taking Quebec lightly. On the contrary, Luke Kirwan (Dewitt, N.Y.) is expecting one of the most physically-draining games of the entire season.
“It was physical when we played them in the pre-tournament game and we expect it to be even more so tonight,” he said. “They want to send a message early to set the tone, show us that they have improved and we know they want to beat us.”
No matter what challenges present themselves in a rematch situation, one thing remains for certain; the only way to achieve Team USA’s ultimate goal is to win.
“We need to execute the game plan to come out with a win. I know what our team can do and we’re going to do it,” said Kunin. “We have to win, it’s that simple.”
(Cover photo courtesy of Andy Devlin/Hockey Canada Images)