Tonight marks the beginning of one of the premier tournaments in the sport of hockey. As it turns out, the World Junior Championships might not be getting the heavy coverage in the United States if it weren't for a certain Dallas Stars prospect.
Jack Campbell will mind the net for the U.S. national junior team tonight against Finland, the first WJC game for Campbell since his brilliant 30-save performance to defeat Canada in the gold-medal game. The prevailing opinion seems to be that Campbell and the U.S have a good shot at winning back-to-back gold medals this year, largely because of Jack's presence.
In fact, the amount of coverage Mr. Campbell seems to be getting today around the hockey community is rather impressive...
If you'll remember back to October, Campbell did not have the easiest transition into pro hockey. His first month with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL was marked with inconsistent performances and multiple games with at least four goals allowed. This didn't help soothe the doubts that many Stars fans were having about the Stars passing on Cam Fowler for the 18-year-old netminder, since Fowler at that point was already playing with the Anaheim Ducks.
As it turned out, Campbell's problems were not a matter of talent, but a matter of...well, mind. The Spitfires brought in a sports psychologist to work with the young goaltender, and the results were highly impressive. Campbell won 10 of his last 14 games, bringing his goals against average down to 3.68 and his save percentage down to .887. (The fact those numbers are still so high tells you just how rough his start was.)
After the jump, more on why Campbell could lead the USA to gold, and some info on Swedish Stars prospects....
At the same time, Campbell is 11-1-1 with a 1.17 GAA and .954 save percentage all time in International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) events. It's no wonder that he has been labeled as a "clutch" performer and a "winner". For that reason, well respected USA Today columnist Kevin Allen wrote that Campbell will be the reason the U.S. team wins a consecutive gold medal:
Now Campbell is the symbol of the American pride and swagger. He expects to win in Buffalo. Clearly the Americans would need balanced scoring, stingy defense and contributing role players to win their second consecutive gold medal. The Americans have the potential to be a fast, high-scoring team. They have more skilled players than they had in 2005 when they finished fourth in their only other chance to repeat.
But if the Americans are going to win in Buffalo, it seems like Campbell's confidence is going to play a major role.
Meanwhile, a couple other Dallas Stars prospects will be making their mark on this tournament for the first time. Defensemen John Klingberg and Patrik Nemeth will be manning the blueline for team Sweden. This is why the tournament is so intriguing to watch; these are two players we fans don't get to watch with our own eyes very often at all, since they play in Sweden. But now Stars fans will get their first up-close look at two very different players:
Prospects Patrik Nemeth and John Klingberg stand on opposite ends of the defenseman spectrum. Nemeth, the Stars second-round pick in 2010 (41st overall) is a rock-solid, stay-at-home, 6-foot-4, 212-pound bruising defenseman that likes to play physical, especially in the corners and in front of his own net.
Klingberg, Dallas' fifth-round selection in 2010, is a swift and heady, flash and dash, 6-foot-1, 172-pound puck-moving defenseman that likes to get up the ice in a hurry to help create scoring chances.
Both will hit the ice today at 3 p.m. Central against Norway. It won't be televised, but I'm sure you can use your internet resources to find a way to watch it, if you so desire. (Not that we condone such actions. Wink, wink.)
The USA will take on Finland tonight at 7 p.m. on the NHL Network, so be sure to flip between the Stars game and that one tonight.