It is the most wonderful time of year. No no, not the holiday season, but that is great too. The 2023 World Junior Hockey Championship from Halifax and Moncton is a week away. Team USA has announced its final roster, but one thing is clear the Americans are looking for redemption after falling in the quarterfinals at the summer 2022 World Junior Championships.
Entering the 2022 World Junior Championships, Team USA was the defending gold medalist. Unfortunately, Team USA lost to Czechia in the quarters by a score of 4-2. It was the second time in three tournaments the Americans failed to medal. Prior to that Team USA medaled four years in a row from 2016-2019. Team USA has a high standard and expectation of winning gold medals now, finishing fifth in the tournament is not good enough.
The Americans are motivated by their past failures especially the eight returning players from the 2022 tournament. Goaltender Kaidan Mbereko is one of those players that will use the disappointment of last season as motivation for this year as Team USA looks to reclaim the gold.
“It was disappointing … that quarterfinal game, and I know it’s a team sport but I blamed myself,” Mbereko said to NHL.com. “I’ve got to do my job and make sure I’m on point with that. I think habits, progressively getting better each day and honing in on the details, will be huge for me this time around.”
While Mbereko blames himself, it was the team in front of him that did not play up to standards. In the tournament in August, Mbereko had a record of 3-1 with 1.76 goals against average and a .920 save percentage in four games. Those are pretty good numbers and numbers that should have gotten Team USA to the gold medal game.
Unfortunately, the team in front of him did not play well. Consistency was a major problem for Team USA at the 2022 World Junior Championships. Early on they looked great, but as the tournament progressed, they got sloppy. Entering the quarterfinal game against Czechia Team USA barely beat Sweden. They did not finish their final preliminary game strong and it showed in the next game.
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It is all about playing a full 60-minute hockey game, especially in a short tournament and especially in the knock-out stage. There are no shortcuts. The experience these eight players got in the summer will help them once the 2023 World Junior Championships begin on December 26th.
“It’s habits, it’s details,” continued Mbereko to NHL.com. “It’s who’s going to play to the structure the best in this tournament. We’re all going to be working on our game, trusting the game plan and executing it, especially with my game. I think that’s going to be huge for me, especially going into the tournament. So I’m excited for what’s coming.”
Mbereko is not the only one motivated by last year’s loss to Czechia in the quarterfinals. Arizona Coyotes prospect Logan Cooley is back for another crack at a gold medal and he is hungry just like Mbereko.
“Obviously not getting out of the quarterfinals in the 2022 WJC was disappointing,” Cooley said. “I was sick seeing Canada win it too, so I’m really looking forward to getting back at them. Obviously, we have a few guys that have been through World Juniors and who have lost so I think that brings more motivation into this year. We want to get back on the winning track here.”
History is on Team USA’s side when it comes to medalling. After finishing out of the medals, the next year Team USA wins a medal. After finishing fifth in 2009, the Americans win gold in 2010. Then in 2012, when the Americans had to deal with the relegation round and finished seventh, the Americans win gold in 2013. After back-to-back fifth-place finishes in 2014 and 2015, the Americans win a bronze in 2016. Team USA followed that up with gold in 2017. Most recently after a sixth-place finish in 2020, Team USA wins gold in 2021.
If you are a fan of Team USA you hope this pattern holds. Not to mention three of the last four gold medals won by the Americans have been on Canadian soil.
There is a lot of work to be done as head coach Rand Pecknold gets his team ready for battle. The Americans will play two exhibition games against Sweden and Finland so coach Pecknold will get a good look at his team there.
Team USA opens the 2023 World Junior Championships on December 26th against Lativa. The Americans will also face off against Slovakia, Switzerland and Finland in the preliminary stage.