Gold may be a pipe dream

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:10 AM ET

If the dream of a world junior title dashes through the goalie crease, don't be fitting the Americans for the gold medal just yet.

Led by Phil Kessel, the odds-on choice to be selected first overall in the NHL draft next June, the American side is deep at forward and on defence and is favoured by many to win its second world junior gold.

But not by everyone, and for those who have doubts, they look between the American pipes, where Cory Schneider will be backed up by Jeff Frazee.

"Schneider is a good college goalie but I just don't see him being there when it counts," said a veteran NHL scout who has attended numerous world junior tournaments. "I've yet to see him perform well under pressure. Frazee is a guesser. It comes down to goaltending in this tournament and I am not convinced the U.S. has it."

That said, the Americans remain a formidable crew, though in a short tournament such as the world junior, one soft goal can kill a team's hopes. But with Kessel leading the way, the U.S. should not have any trouble scoring.

The University of Minnesota standout is one of six returnees from the club that finished fourth on home soil last year (the others are Schneider, Rob Schremp, Chris Bourque, Kevin Porter and Brian Lee). Expected to aid Kessel in the points production department are two OHLers, Schremp of the London Knights and Bobby Ryan of the Owen Sound Attack.

Schremp will have a much larger role than he did last year, when he had four goals (three on the power play) in seven games and got more ice time as the tournament progressed. When the OHL broke for Christmas last weekend, Schremp led the league in scoring with 78 points in 27 games; Ryan was second with 73 points in 33 games.

"I want to be more of a leader," said Schremp, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick. "I don't want to be the 13th forward who just gets time on the power play. I want to be a go-to guy."

So too does Ryan, picked second overall by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in July. This will be the first time Ryan, a native of Collingswood, N.J., has worn the USA sweater.

"I can't say enough about it," Ryan said. "For lack of a better word, I am pumped. It's a dream come true."

Coach Walt Kyle has a strong defence corps at his disposal, led by Jack Johnson, taken by the Carolina Hurricanes one pick after Ryan. Another top-10 choice, Lee, went ninth to the Ottawa Senators.

And it seems at least one message from Kyle has sunk in already. The American players scoff at the idea they're the favourites going in.

"We still have to play Canada (on New Year's Eve) and they are defending their gold," Schremp said. "We've seen all the things that say we are the favourite, but we can't worry about that. We just have to believe in ourselves, work and be ready."


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