February 20, 2011

From NEHJ: U.S. settles for bronze at World Juniors

By Bill Keefe

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. 

Boston University freshman center Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) and Boston College sophomore defenseman Brian Dumoulin (Biddeford, Maine) are in select company.

They are members of one of seven U.S. teams to medal in the 35-year history of the World Junior Championship, after earning bronze last month in Buffalo, N.Y. In an even smaller group, they are among the couple of dozen players to have medaled in their first WJC appearance. And they are part of the first U.S. team to ever win back-to-back medals.

Two of their teammates — forwards Ryan Bourque of the Quebec Remparts and sophomore Boston College winger Chris Kreider — are in an even more select group. They are among the eight players who were on both ends of the back-to-back medals, having won gold last year in Saskatchewan. Linked even further, Bourque and Kreider both hail from Boxford, Mass. (with a population of less than 9,000) and both are 2009 New York Rangers draft picks (Kreider in the first round and Bourque in the third).

Overseeing this select group was a handful of New England natives. The team was led by Yale head coach Keith Allain (Worcester, Mass.) and assisted by goalie coach Joe Exter (Cranston, R.I.). Tim Taylor (Guilford, Conn.) was the team’s director of player personnel. Both Exter and Taylor also had the same roles with last year’s gold medal-winning team.

After a tough semifinal loss to Canada, the United States pulled together to capture the bronze medal against Sweden with a strong third period. The significance of winning a second consecutive medal was a major rallying point.

“There are not too many chances you get to win a medal at that tournament,” said Dumoulin, the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2009 second-round pick who led the U.S. with a plus-4 rating and added two assists. “To come away with a medal is awesome. It showed we belonged in that game with Sweden and belonged in contention for a gold medal.”

Coyle centered Kreider and Kyle Palmieri, a 2009 first-round pick who has played with the Anaheim Ducks and in the AHL this year. The trio together tied for the team scoring lead in the tournament with six points apiece. Both Coyle and Palmieri had 2-4-6 lines, while Kreider was 4-2-6.

Coyle was selected to the all-star team by the tournament coaches, who tabbed the three top players on each team.

“There were a lot of good guys on the team and that could have gone to a lot of different kids,” Coyle said. “To be recognized like that, I was very honored. It was a nice ending to it along with a bronze medal as well.

“It was a real good experience, being there and playing with those guys,” said Coyle, a 2010 first-round pick of the San Jose Sharks. “Playing with Palmieri, he’s already been to the NHL; playing with a guy like that, you can learn a lot from him and other guys, too. It was a great experience and to get a medal, too, it was good.”

Coyle was somewhat familiar with Kreider, having played with him in a couple of summer leagues and against him in prep school, but he had not played with Palmieri before.

“We clicked right away,” Coyle said. “Each game, we got better. I was real lucky to play with those guys.

“Kreider can fly; he uses his speed. Palmieri has a wicked shot. He can pass, score; he can do it all. We each have different parts of our game that matched up with each other, and we clicked because of that.”

Dumoulin also had the chance to play with an NHLer in his WJC roommate — Nick Leddy, a 2009 first-round pick of the Minnesota Wild who played a handful of games with the Chicago Blackhawks this season on a call-up from the AHL.

“We talked about different things,” Dumoulin said. “Everyone is so smart in the NHL. The little things he did and how smart he is with the puck definitely showed. I tried to pick up on the things he does and how he tries to make the right decision.”

Dumoulin had the benefit of two Eagles teammates at the WJC in Kreider and defenseman Patrick Wey, his roommate at The Heights. Although Dumoulin plays at crosstown BC and both he and Bourque are from the area, Coyle didn’t really know them prior to the summer’s evaluation camp. Starting there, Coyle said, the team started to bond.

Many players knew each other from the U.S. National Team Development Program. Other players knew each other from various U.S. tournament teams. And, of course, there were regional ties. All the different connections came together quickly, Coyle said.

“Everyone was pretty close,” Coyle said. “It definitely had something to do with our success. We were all going for a common goal. We would go out to eat with each other. The first day the final team was picked, we went laser-tagging. That was the ice breaker with everyone.”

The United States needed overtime to win its opener, 3-2, against Finland. The Americans then rolled past Slovakia, 6-1, and Germany, 4-0. Coyle earned U.S. player of the game honors against Germany with a goal and an assist.

Team USA then ran into a hot goaltender but managed to beat Switzerland, 2-1, with Bourque earning U.S. player of the game.

Then came the showdown with Canada in the semifinals, a rematch of last year’s gold-medal game, won by the Americans on Canadian ice in Saskatchewan. The United States had drawn a bye into the semifinals while Canada played and won in the quarterfinals the night before.

Although the game was played in Buffalo, the stands were filled with Canadians.

“They came out ready to play and we didn’t,” Coyle said. “We were not playing USA hockey like we said we would. We didn’t do anything in the game plan. They played a perfect game. We folded at first.”

Said Dumoulin, “We didn’t rely on each other. Guys were watching, and nobody played the puck. It was more on us than how they played.”

But, with the chance to earn a bronze medal, the Americans were able to recover and put the Canada game behind them. Tied 1-1 entering the third, Team USA won, 4-2, behind a pair of goals from Kreider.

“Nothing we could do about (the Canada game) after,” Coyle said. “We were still playing for a medal, and that was a big deal. We just focused on Sweden. We had no problem getting ready for it. It was another game, a new day and we were ready to go.”

Coyle is among nine 1992-born players who could return next year to try to extend the medal streak.

“I would love to do it again,” Coyle said. “I would have a little more confidence and experience going in. We have a good team coming back, too.”

Bill Keefe can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.