Success Breeds Success In US Hockey

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Success breeds success in US hockey

A world junior hockey championship training camp is nothing new to Emerson Etem. The Medicine Hat Tigers forward and 2010 Anaheim Ducks first round draft pick has been through this process before.

Etem is among those on the 2012 U.S. national junior team preliminary roster, training in Camrose this week in preparation for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship starting Boxing Day in Calgary and Edmonton. But Etem was also part of last year’s bronze medal-winning squad and is touted as one of those to watch this year. With a lot of new faces at this camp, Etem said his role with the team has evolved.

“I was like the 13th or 14th guy last year, so I had to pay special attention to detail on the defensive side of the puck,” he said.

“It was mostly on the penalty kill, but I would look for offence on the penalty kill and use my speed whenever I’d see open ice. This year I am paired on the top line and it’s all about creating chances — have that defence-first mentality but move your feet, and get a lot of shots on net when you do get the puck.”

Etem took a little heat at the 2011 World Juniors for a tweet about Buffalo, the host city. The 19-year-old from Long Beach, Calif., posted on his twitter account, “buffalo is a ghost town!! the worst city ever, it makes medicine hat look like paradise, never thought ide (sic) say that.”

As for Camrose and the Edgeworth Centre, Team USA’s base of operations for its training camp, Etem said the people and the city have been great.

“It’s a great western town and great little community, especially the facility here. I think a lot of the guys are pretty impressed with where the (Camrose) Kodiaks play each and every night. It’s exciting for us and all the people I have talked to have been nice and we feel at home,” said Etem.

That’s echoed by Team USA general manager Jim Johannson, but he said with a lot to get done in a short amount of time, most of what they are seeing is at the rink.

Johannson said after several practices it’s still difficult to see some separation between players vying for spots on the final roster.

“The good news is that it has been hard to separate because the guys have actually performed quite well in all of our staff’s minds. They have all come playing the game they play for why they are here, so for us it has been good so far and hopefully the (exhibition) games will help separate some of that out.”

USA Hockey has been successful at the world junior in recent years, with a gold medal in 2010 and a bronze this past year. Johannson said it’s a matter of success breeding success.

“Everybody comes in with a pretty high expectation of performance. Several of the guys have had success, so I think they build from that a little bit and it adds a little bit to the peer pressure within the culture,” he said.

“All of that, combined with the fact that we just have more better players (than before), and we should have some success. That has led to it being more difficult to make the team and that is showing itself in camp this year.”

Many of those players come from what would be considered traditional U.S. hockey markets — Michigan, Illinois or New York — but with returning talent like Etem from California, forward Jason Zucker from Nevada and others from Florida and Texas, Johannson said hockey has expanded south of the border.

“I think the NHL has been a big part of that, with the Sun Belt expansion into California that led to facilities and to kids saying, ‘Hey, this hockey looks pretty interesting, I’ll give that a try,’ ” he said.

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