World Juniors: U.S. Opens Saturday

     This release from USA Hockey on the opening of the World Junior Championships on Saturday in Regina and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The Americans face Slovakia in the first game at 7 p.m. on the NHL Network. A USA Hockey Live Blog will be here. U.S. coach Dean Blais discusses his roster here. And a story on defending champion Canada is in the Regina Leader-Post here.

By Cameron Eickmeyer

It’s a new tournament with new teams and players, but when the U.S. Junior Team squares off against Slovakia on Saturday in the opening game of the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship, a memory will be hanging over some of the American players.

Danny Kristo, Jordan Schroeder and Tyler Johnson were each members of the 2009 U.S. squad that lost to Slovakia, 5-3, in the quarterfinals in one of the biggest upsets in the recent tournament history.

“Last year’s game is always in the back of your mind,” said Kristo, a North Dakota freshman forward. “But it’s a new (U.S.) team and they’re a new team. We’re going to try to let that go and then focus on one game at a time and on the task at hand.”

The task for Team USA will be to start with a victory over what is sure to be an inspired Slovakian team. Kristo said a positive start in this tournament is vital if Team USA is to return to the medal stand for the first time since 2007.

“Getting off on the right foot is definitely an important part of this tournament,” he said. “If we don’t come to play, it’s not going to happen.”

Schroeder, the only two-time veteran of this tournament, said his first opponent conjures up memories of the heart-wrenching defeat in Ottawa.

“Obviously it’s always there,” said Schroeder, a University of Minnesota forward. “But it’s pretty much a whole new team.”

Schroeder and Kristo pointed out the vast changes every team in the event goes through each season, and said dwelling on previous years’ outcomes accomplishes little.

“There can be a ton (of differences),” Schroeder said. “Different ages, players develop over a year and might be better than last year.

“You never know what you’re going to face,” he added.

Team USA would be wise to remember the lesson learned in its last game against Slovakia, which Kristo said wouldn’t be a problem with veterans of that game in the locker room.

“We’re not going to let that happen again, where we come in with the mentality that it’s going to be an easy game,” he said. “On any given game in this tournament any team can beat anyone.”

Defeating Slovakia and starting the tournament on a positive note is an all important first step for Team USA if it is to win a medal. Schroeder will certainly be in the mix for the U.S. as he seeks his first medal in three tries.

“It would mean the world to me and for this team,” he said.