The taste is just as raw as it was a nearly a year ago for Jack Skille.
One of eight players with the U.S. junior team returning from last winter, Skille remembers quite clearly what it was like to finish fourth in Vancouver.
"It wasn't embarrassing but I believe we should have done better," Skille, a Chicago Blackhawks prospect who plays for the University of Wisconsin, said. "I personally have a lot to prove and my teammates have a lot to prove."
As does USA Hockey as a whole when it comes to the world junior. One reason why the U.S. was looking forward to heading to Sweden for the competition? It's the first time the tournament is back in Europe since 2004, when, in Finland, the U.S. won its only gold in the history of the championship.
There are some who can't figure the U.S. and the way it selects its players. The team had a good idea it would not be getting Phil Kessel on loan from the Boston Bruins, but already seemed to have made up its mind on the Owen Sound Attack's Bobby Ryan weeks ago. The latter was third in U.S. scoring in Vancouver but was left off the 2007 team.
"Leave it to USA Hockey, they know everything," said an NHL scout, one who does not work for the Anaheim Ducks, the team that drafted Ryan. "I was in shock over that one."
There were whispers USA Hockey was not happy with Ryan's attitude at the summer camp. Whether it was, some of sort of in-fighting has been a part of the U.S. story whether it is college vs. non-college players or something else, at past world juniors.
The bottom line for the U.S. management is the experience it has coming back. Two of the better teenage defencemen in the world, Erik Johnson and Jack Johnson, return. Also on the blue line again are Taylor Chorney and Brian Lee while Skille, Peter Mueller and Nate Gerbe return up front. Jeff Frazee was the back-up goalie.
U.S. coach Ron Rolston, whom some feel is USA Hockey's best choice in years, likes his roster.
"Ten years ago we would be pencilling in players (months in advance), but the past couple of years our depth has been getting deeper and it is more difficult to pick players," Rolston said. "When you go into a situation as tough as this tournament, you have to have strength from the net out. Our defence is mobile, we have some experience in goal and the group of forwards bring to the table a lot of character."