Saturday, April 24, 2010

USA's "doomsday defense" and Canada's abject failure at U-18 tourney

In the case of the Team USA defense, the boxscore told the exact story, as this outstanding group of Americans recovered nicely from an opening game loss to Sweden to smother Switzerland, Canada, Czech Republic and Finland en route to beating Sweden in the rematch for gold at the World Under-18 Championship tournament in Minsk, Belarus.

I talked to one insider who was there at the two-week event and had a lot of great things to say about the USA blue liners, but was far less charitable when the subject of Team Canada came up.

"They (the U.S. defensive corps) were great, all of them," he told me in a conversation today. "This was the best (hockey) I have seen from (Derek) Forbort and (Jarred) Tinordi. Both were just massive and elevated their game when the team needed it."

He added that if Forbort is that high upside player, then Tinordi is your big, intimidating stay-at-homer, nothing more, nothing less.

Another USA defender who gained some notice in the tournament was Michigan native and Wolverines recruit Jon Merrill, who has been a bit of a controversial figure this season after getting in trouble earlier in the winter over an off-ice incident. Possessing the size, skating ability and hockey sense to be an appealing draft pick he'll have to answer for the concerns about his character at the NHL Draft Combine next month, but the source also noticed another troubling aspect of Merrill's play.

"He was great early in the tourney and dominated at times, but his overall play dropped off as the games got more intense," he said of Merrill, who has the look of a stud player in terms of the measurables, but is lacking in the things you can't quantify such as intensity and toughness. "With his size, he should play much more physical than he does. He has his moments, but I was a little concerned with the lack of toughness when the games were on the line."

Make no mistake-- although not a fan of Merrill on this blog space, I am also a realist. I believe Merrill will be a top-30 NHL draft choice come June, and he very well could be someone the Bruins target because of his impressive phyiscal attributes and skill set. He may prove the critics wrong down the road, but there are some red flags with him, too. Time will tell.

Adam Clendening, who is not eligible until 2011, was also a rock and two-way presence on the USA blue line. You can bet that he'll be a major subject of discussion in the Bruins 2011 Draft Watch blog as we get rolling next season.

On the flip side, Team Canada had a horrific tournament and no doubt could have used Tyler Seguin and Ryan Johansen, both of whom were still playing in their respective major junior playoff rounds when the squad was assembled in late March.

They had to actual play in the relegation round, and were dominated in all aspects of their 5-0 loss to USA to send them there. For the predominantly Canadian contingent of NHL scouts and other management types in attendance, their country's team was a source of embarrassment for the lack of cohesion, heart and execution they presented.

From Al Murray's selection to Guy Carbonneau's coaching, it was the kind of non-effort that could hurt a good many of them, including the heavily-hyped Brett Connolly, who apparently whiffed on a chance to impress future NHL employers with a poor overall showing.

"All will have to answer for it," said the insider referring to the members of Team Canada, who had better get coached up on how to respond to the queries that will be thrown their way at the Combine.

He declined to share any bright spots for Canada, instead reiterating his respect for what Team USA accomplished. At the center of it all was goaltender Jack Campbell, without whom none of it would have been possible.

"Even with how well that (USA) defense played, he was just outstanding and stood on his head when he had to," said the source of Campbell.

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