As the immortal Michael Russo announced this morning, USA Hockey has named their 27-man preliminary roster for the upcoming World Junior Championships which is being held in Russia this year from December 26 through January 5. This tournament has been a holiday religion in Canada since the 1980's, and is slowly gaining a following here in the US. If you like college hockey or just hockey in general, I cannot recommend strongly enough to watch this tournament of the best "Under-20" players in the world. The NHL Network now carries all of the Team USA games as well as some of the other biggies, and it's like watching playoff hockey times 100 as these kids play for their country to try and win a gold medal.
The U is used to losing a few players every year during the Christmas break, and while the final rosters won't be announced for another few weeks, there's a pretty good bet that both Reilly and Skjei will be playing for the Red, White and Blue. Reilly's having a great year so far, and while Skjei hasn't put up big numbers thus far, he has international experience playing with the USNDP team the past two years before coming to Minnesota.
Speaking of the State of Hockey, it's not very well represented on the roster, and I'm not saying that's wrong or a great injustice. Despite a coaching staff led by head coach and former Gopher and NHL great Phil Housley, and includes former Gopher Grant Potulny as an assistant, Reilly, Skjei, and Don Lucia's son Mario are the only three Minnesotans on the team. What it does is shows how the game is slowly growing more and more across the country. It used to be that "hockey states" like Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Massachusetts would dominate the roster, and while those four still a solid nucleus of players, they combine for a grand total of just 11 of the 27 players named to the team. The breakdown by state goes like this:
Michigan 4, Minnesota 3, Illinois 3, Ohio 3, Pennsylvania 2, Massachusetts 2, Wisconsin 2, New York 2, Texas 2, Florida 1, California 1, New Jersey 1, New Hampshire 1,
While a large percentage of players still come from the midwest and northeast, Texas has two players (for you NBA fans one of them is Seth Jones, son of former NBA player and Dallas Maverick Popeye Jones. Seth is a likely top 3 pick in the upcoming NHL draft. If they have one), and Florida and California each have one, and it's not the first time in recent years these states are putting elite prospects onto the team and into colleges and junior leagues. I don't think a school in Texas or California will be adding division 1 hockey anytime soon, but you can see why Penn State added a program, and you wonder how long it'll be before Illinois does the same as they're usually well represented on this, and are in the top 5 or 6 states for number of hockey players every year.
One of other thing to note, and it's discouraging if you're college hockey fan, is how many of the elite American born and raised players are now heading off to the Canadian Junior leagues instead of the NCAA. 11 of the 27 play in either the WHL, OHL or QMJHL, which are the top three junior hockey leagues in Canada. That still leaves 15 kids playing college hockey (forward JT Miller, a 2011 1st round pick of the New York Rangers, is currently playing for their AHL affiliate), and the WCHA leads all conferences with five selections (Jake McCabe of Sconnie, Rocco Grimaldi of UND and Blake Pietila are the three non-Gophers), but the number of elite Americans playing Canadian juniors is growing every year.