By Kirk Luedeke
The 2011 U.S. Under-18 Select Team begins action in the annual Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament Monday, with several New England natives on the roster to try and build on the silver medal won by Team USA a year ago.
Goaltender Jon Gillies (South Portland, Maine), defenseman Teddy Doherty (Hopkinton, Mass.), Sam Kurker (Reading, Mass.) Danny O’Regan (Needham, Mass.) and Brendan Silk (Wakefield, Mass.) represent a pretty strong regional contingent.
The team defeated the Czech Republic in a Saturday exhibition contest by a 5-3 score. Gillies and goaltending partner Calvin Petersen combined for 34 stops after splitting the game. Kurker, a standout with St. John’s Prep, scored the second USA goal, with fellow Bay Stater Doherty (a Boston College recruit) registering an assist.
Gillies is huge (6-foot-5) and athletic, coming off a season in the USHL with the Indiana Ice, where his teammates including Bruins prospect Brian Ferlin, a fourth-round selection in June’s NHL Entry Draft.
Silk, who missed much of the 2010-11 season with the U.S. NTDP’s Under-17 team with an achilles tendon injury, was named to the team to allow him the chance to compete in an international tourney while working himself back into shape after lost time. USA Hockey does not normally bring its players to the non-IIHF tourney, but Silk is a rare exception.The 6-foot-2, 180-pound power forward has some skill and upside, and will be one of the key regional players to watch for the 2012 NHL draft.
O’Regan is a St. Sebastian’s Arrow, following in his dad’s footsteps when he moves on to the next level. His father, Tom, played for Boston University and was a Terriers co-captain in the early 80′s (he also played 61 NHL games for the Pittsburgh Penguins) before going on to a lengthy pro career in North America and Germany.
Danny will head to Comm. Ave. in 2013, but his older brother, Tommy, opted for Harvard University instead. Although not as big as his brother, Danny O’Regan has impressive offensive skills with speed, hockey sense and the ability to finish off the play.
Forward Cristoval “Boo” Nieves is a New York native, but played for Kent School in Connecticut a year ago, helping lead the Lions to the championship game before bowing out to Milton Academy in a close-fought game. Nieves has excellent size at 6-foot-3 and is an explosive skater who has high-end offensive ability. Nieves registered a goal and an assist in the win over the Czechs.
Also on the U.S. team is top draft hopeful Alex Galchenyuk of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, who chose USA Hockey over Russia. The dual-citizen was born in Milwaukee while his father was playing pro hockey in North America. His father, Alexander Sr., is actually a native of Belarus, and competed for Belarus in the Olympics. The younger Galchenyuk spent most of his life in Russia, where he was raised. He is an elite offensive player, who scored 31 goals and 83 points as a rookie with the Sting.
Team USA will have their hands full trying to beat Team Canada, which has essentially owned this tournament since its inception in 1991, having won 15 gold medals. The Americans have won it just once (2003). One of the reasons Canada normally dominates is because the tourney takes place before the start of the major junior (CHL) season, and all of the top draft eligible players (born on or after Jan. 1, 1994 of this year) can be there. When the IIHF Under-18 tourney is held every April, many potential players are ineligible because their CHL teams are competing in the playoffs.
Team USA fell to Canada a year ago by a 1-0 score in the championship game, earning its seventh silver medal. Canada has another powerfully stacked team again, so the challenge will be a big one.
The tourney schedule for USA kicks off Monday with the opening game against Team Finland.