Conference should be well-represented on U.S. team

Six Gophers are eligible for an invitation to play for the junior national team.

by Brian Deutsch

Last August, amateur hockey players from across the country traveled to Lake Placid, N.Y for the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp.

Next Tuesday, 22 skaters, most of whom will have been at last summer’s development camp, will be named to the U.S. National Junior Team.

Those who do make the team will compete in the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Pardubice and Liberec, Czech Republic.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association will more than likely be well-represented on the U.S. team as four conference teams boast candidates, including Minnesota which leads all Division I programs with six eligible players.

Sophomore forwards Kyle Okposo and Mike Carman will both attempt to make their second appearances on the U.S. team a year after taking home the bronze medal.

“It’s definitely a turnaround from college; you’re playing seven games in nine days Ö it’s obviously more rigorous and a lot more demanding on your body,” Okposo said. “But it’s a fun tournament, it’s the best players under 20 (years old) in the world. Hopefully it will be a fun ride again this year.”

Meanwhile sophomore forward Ryan Flynn, freshman forward Patrick White, sophomore defenseman David Fischer and freshman defenseman Cade Fairchild will all vie for a spot on the team for the first time.

With six skaters, including four forwards, possibly going to Europe and missing both the Dodge Holiday Classic and the Wayne State series, the Gophers will need to compensate for their missing teammates – something the team has had to do several times already this season.

“I think (USA Hockey is) probably going to take into consideration (the number of players it takes from each team),” Wehrs said. “Obviously, there is going to be a shortage of guys even if they just take one or two guys from our team.”

Fairchild said he has already talked to coach Don Lucia about the short-handed situation.

“He basically said he’s never held anyone back, but we have to understand that (the Gophers) are our first priority,” Fairchild said. “If we don’t have enough guys to play on our team, then obviously some guys are going to have to stay back.”

The World Junior Championship has been notorious for spreading college rosters thin and forcing coaches to make adjustments without some of their key performers.

But Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, whose Badgers squad might lose three players to the tournament, would rather look at the situation with optimism.

“The way I look at it, if a young man has an opportunity to represent his country, that is an unbelievable event in the big picture of things,” Eaves said. “And so I hope for all of (the Badgers) that they have a realistic chance of doing that because it is very special.”

WCHA weekly honors

Colorado College junior center Chad Rau earned his second-straight WCHA Offensive Player of the Week award after helping the Tigers split with in-state rival Denver last weekend.

The Eden Prairie native recorded his first-collegiate hat-trick in Colorado College’s 5-1 win Friday and added an assist Saturday in a 3-2 loss to the Pioneers.

Tigers freshman net-minder Richard Bachman also earned his second conference prize of the season this week when he was named the WCHA Rookie of the Week.

Bachman turned away 52 of the 56 shots he faced in the split with Denver.

He currently leads the conference in winning percentage (8-2-0, .800) and save percentage (.944).

St. Cloud State junior defenseman John Swanson earned the final award this week – the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week.

Swanson picked up three points (one goal and two assists) this weekend in a split with non-conference opponent Clarkson.

The St. Cloud native also helped the Huskies successfully kill off 9-of-10 penalties this weekend.