For hockey fans, it’s like Christmas.
True, the real thing happened less than a day ago, but December 26th marks the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year for hockey fans around the world. The World Junior Hockey Championship begins today, and for fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, particularly American ones, they should have no shortage of cheer this year.
The Blackhawks will have four players on Team USA’s roster, all forwards. 2013 draftees Tyler Motte and Anthony Louis are accompanied by their 2014 NHL Draft counterparts John Hayden and Nick Schmaltz, as players that have donned the Indian Head on Draft day, now suiting up in the same red, white, and blue jerseys as each other over the next 11 days.
Motte was the ‘Hawks 4th-round selection in 2013, with the 121st overall pick. After getting his first taste of junior hockey with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Motte has spent the last two years in the Big 10 conference with the University Of Michigan. In 34 games in his freshman year last season, Motte put up 9 goals and 18 points, while racking up 22 PIMs. He has almost eclipsed those numbers this season in less than half the time, with 6 goals and 14 points in his first 15 games with the Wolverines. His place in the Development Program put him on the fast track for the U20 team, and a solid sophomore season in the NCAA made him a clear choice for the team.
Louis finds himself in the top-six of Team USA’s dangerous offense to begin the tournament, after being only a question mark to make the team just months ago. Since becoming a Blackhawk in 2013 with their sixth-round, 181st overall pick, Louis has done nothing but impress Blackhawks’ brass with his play at the NCAA level. With Miami University, Louis put up 25 points in 36 games through his freshman year, and like Motte, contributed 14 points in 2014-15 before being loaned to the national team. Despite being a mere 5-foot-7, 145 pound winger, Louis’ presence with and without the puck is what earned him a spot on this team, and will need to be showcased in this tournament for the USA to have the deadly depth many anticipate.
Schmaltz finds himself on the wing alongside fellow first-rounder Sonny Milano, and centered by 2016 draft-eligible Auston Matthews. Milano and Schmaltz will have to offer leadership to one of the youngest players in the tournament, but all three will be expected to put up the points early and often, as they start the tournament billed as the American’s ‘second line’. Most of the spotlight, at least from Blackhawks’ fans, will be on this particular winger, after the Blackhawks traded up to select him 20th overall in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft this past summer. Expect Schmaltz to play a lot of minutes, as he will likely be in the mix on both of Team USA’s special-teams units.
After becoming a Blackhawk in the 2014 Entry Draft, Hayden went on to leave a lasting impression on brass and management alike during Chicago’s 2014 training camp. He carried that momentum with him into his second season at the NCAA level, and is now a point-per-game player with Yale in the ECAC. Hayden has 10 points in his first 10 games with the Bulldogs this season, and has developed into the power forward many anticipated he would be. A teammate of Motte’s with the USNDTP, look for Hayden around the net, using his 6-foot-2, 185 pound frame to contribute offensively in a bottom-six role for the Americans. Hayden will serve as assistant captain, a leadership role that Blackhawks fans should be looking forward to watching their 2014 3rd-round pick fill out.
Team USA is predicted to have the most potent offense of the entire tournament, even more so than their Canadian counterparts, who are hosting the tournament in the cities of Montreal and Toronto. Blackhawks fans will have no trouble seeing the American offense go to work, with a quartet of future Blackhawks that are expected to make their contribution towards Chicago’s own rampant offense in the coming years.
There won’t be any easing in to the tournament for Team USA, as they take on the defending champions, Finland, in their tournament opener. All eyes will be on New Year’s eve, however, when USA and Team Canada renew their storied rivalry in Group A play.
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