FIRST TIME ON THE ICE
In the midst of a heavy snowfall, Team USA is set to hit the ice for the first time as a group since last August, where 25 of the 26 players here at camp were together for the 2016 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. Practice will begin at 10am and conclude at 12pm.
"I thought today was a good start," said head coach Bob Motzko. "There were some nerves and some bouncing pucks early, but I think we saw as the practice went on that these kids are all in midseason form. So, the skill's there. The level of play is there. Now it's time for us to come together. I'm not a huge rah-rah guy; I'm a big heart guy. We want to be team oriented, where everyone's together and knows they're an important piece of the puzzle."
"Being here wasn't something I had my mind on at the start of the season," said Patrick Harper (New Canaan, Conn./Boston University). "It's an honor to be invited and in the mix. Having a lot of my BU teammates here is definitely helpful and we're all excited about the chance to represent Team USA this year."
"It's nice it's finally here," said Alex DeBrincat (Farmington Hills, Mich./Erie Otters), who aims to represent the U.S. at the IIHF World Junior Championship for the second time. "We won a medal last year, but it's not the one we wanted, so having another run at it is definitely on some of our minds. The thing I'm looking forward to most is getting back to that style of hockey Coach Motzko wants. It worked in August and I think we have a chance to do something special this year."
The U.S. National Junior Team practices throughout its stay here in Buffalo will all take place at HarborCenter's Key Bank Rink. The facility, with a capacity of 1,800+ people, will play a significant role in the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. For many here, this was their first experience taking in the facility.
"It's tremendous," said Motzko. "It's wonderful to see this type of facility here in the U.S. There's a peewee tournament going on and all the kids and families are here watching us practice. I think it'll help our guys know who they're representing and that at the end of the day we're all lucky to involved in the game. To know this will be part of next year's World Junior Championship is really exciting to see."
To date, the venue has already held numerous events in cooperation with USA Hockey, including the 2015 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sled Hockey World Championship and 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women's World Championship, both of which saw Team USA claim titles. Tickets for the 2018 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship can be purchased here.
SABRES vs. ISLES
Tonight, players and staff will take in the hometown Buffalo Sabres versus the New York Islanders. Two U.S. players, in particular, may pay close attention to the game as Boston College defenseman Casey Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.) and Boston University forward Kieffer Bellows (Edina, Minn.) are Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders prospects, respectively. At the 2016 NHL Entry Draft here in Buffalo, New York, the Sabres selected Fitzgerald in the third round, 86th overall, while Bellows was chosen in the first round, 19th overall, by the Islanders.