Campbell, U.S. ready to defend title
Saturday, 12.25.2010 / 9:06 PM CT / News
By Bob Matuszak
AMHERST, N.Y. -- It's going to be a hard act to follow, but Jack Campbell and the rest of his United States teammates are certainly up for the challenge.
Campbell is among eight returning players that the U.S. will boast when it begins defense of its gold medal against Finland on Sunday, the first day of competition at the IIHF 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships in Buffalo, N.Y. The Americans won the gold last year in Canada by defeating the host team in overtime, snapping the Canadians' string of five straight gold medals thanks in large part to the play of Campbell, the Stars' No. 1 draft pick (11th overall) this past summer.
It's that familiarity of how to slam the door shut when it counts the most that makes Campbell so dangerous heading into this years event.
"The one thing you can't teach, and that you're not born with, is experience," he said on Friday following the team's practice in suburban Buffalo. "Eight guys are returning this year, and we're just trying to each give a little bit to the team by sharing our knowledge and help the team out as best we can."
It's been a whirlwind year for the 18-year-old Campbell. After winning the gold in January, he was drafted by the Stars, got his first taste of Canadian Junior A action with the Windsor Spitfires, and now will backstop the United States title defense on American soil.
"It was a great year not only for myself, but USA hockey," Campbell said. "We had quite a few guys drafted in the first round which is great to see. There's obviously a little bit more pressure this year coming back as defending champions, but everyone in the room is real excited about playing well, and our coaches have done a great job in getting us ready."
Head coach Keith Allain still hasn't officially named Campbell the team's starter, and was quick to praise the play of his other netminder, Andy Iles. But one would be hard-pressed to see a situation where Campbell won't be saddled up and ridden hard over the 11-day tournament.
"We like Jack and we like his pedigree," Allain said. "The interesting thing for me about that gold medal game is that he came in off the bench and did the job. That experience alone will go a long, long way. He's a guy that has been in other big tournaments and won. He's been able to overcome adversity and make the big save when you need it, and that's important."
Although they are viewed as the villain to their competitors -- especially by their northern neighbors -- Allain doesn't feel any more stress of wearing the target on his back.
"I personally don't think there's any pressure from the outside," he said. "I think we're all competitive people, and we all want to do well. I think the pressure that we put on each other will be a lot greater than what some of the outside influences put on us. Our focus has been good. I think it's more comfortable to be at home, to be in American hotels and have American TV. So it'll be an exciting atmosphere to play in."
Forward Jerry D'Amigo agrees.
"We know that we're going to have every team going hard against us, so it's going to be a challenge for us to keep our composure and keep on going," he said. "But it's great to be playing at home. We're getting a lot of support already, and that's nice to know."
D'Amigo (Toronto), defenseman Nick Leddy (Chicago), and forwards Jeremy Morin (Chicago) and Kyle Palmieri (Anaheim) are all prospects on loan from their NHL club, while defenseman John Ramage, and forwards D'Amigo, Morin, Palmieri, Ryan Bourque, Jason Zucker, and Chris Kreider join Campbell as the returnees from last year's championship squad.
"A big part of why we won last year was how strong our leadership was, and the core of older players that we had," Kreider said. "So I think the guys that were there last year are trying to lead the way this year and set the culture that we had last year."
D'Amigo and Kreider tied for the team lead with six goals in seven games during last year's tournament, and during the American's pre-tournament exhibition games D'Amigo has lined up next to Flower Mound native Chris Brown.
The Americans will rely on their potent combination of speed and strength, and won't be afraid t0 win games 1-0 or 6-5.
"We have a big, strong, fast team," Allain said. "I hate to characterize us as offensive or defensive. I think you just have to play your game. When the other team has the puck, I want all five of our guys thinking about defense. When we get it, I want all five thinking offense. That's how we have to play."
Grouped in what appears to be the easier pool of teams, the United States is itching to go. After having a Christmas party Friday night followed by a Christmas morning practice, the puck will finally drop for them on Sunday evening.
"I think our desire to win is what our best attribute is," Campbell said. "Everybody on the team, at some point and at some level, has either won gold medals or championships. We're going to use that and try to put everything together. I think we have the tools to be champions. Now it's just a matter of going out and doing it."
United States' schedule:
Dec. 26 vs. Finland: 7 pm CT HSBC Arena, Buffalo N.Y.
Dec. 28 vs. Slovakia: 7 pm CT HSBC Arena, Buffalo N.Y.
Dec. 30 vs. Germany: 6 pm CT HSBC Arena, Buffalo N.Y.
Dec. 31 vs. Switzerland: 7 pm CT at HSBC Arena, Buffalo N.Y.
IIHF-U20 World Junior Championship Schedule