On Monday afternoon, it was announced that six members of the No. 6 Michigan hockey team were selected to preliminary team rosters for the upcoming IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships in Halifax and Moncton, Canada.
Five Wolverines will vie for the opportunity to represent the US — freshman and sophomore defensemen Seamus Casey and Luke Hughes, sophomore forward Dylan Duke and freshman forwards Rutger McGroarty and Gavin Brindley. On the other hand, freshman forward Adam Fantilli is Michigan’s sole Canadian contending for a roster spot.
“I’m definitely really excited,” Duke said. “Anytime you get to wear the USA logo, it’s super special. That was a huge goal of mine … but you still gotta make the team.”
That’s the case for members of both teams, as today’s announcement is not indicative of the final rosters. Currently, both the US and Canada sit at 32 and 29-man teams respectively, but they still need to whittle that number down to 23 after preliminary camps.
That being said, all six Wolverine selections already have experience playing at a national level.
Hughes is the only returner to the World Juniors, coming off of a strong performance at last year’s championship in which he was a leading defenseman and averaged more than a point a game. Both Duke and McGroarty spent time playing for the US Hockey National Team Development Program, and all Americans but Brindley were selected to the National Junior Evaluation Camp. Additionally, Brindley, McGroarty and Fantilli both spent time on their respective national u18 teams — McGroarty captaining the US squad.
The World Juniors presents opportunities for each player to face off against some of the toughest young competition out there. Nine members of the Canadian team and seven American selections have been previous NHL first round draft picks. And notably, Regina Pats forward Connor Bedard, Fantilli’s expected competition as this year’s first overall pick, will hit the ice alongside him.
But while the World Juniors may be viewed by scouts as an opportunity to increase draft stock or prove oneself against pro-level competitors, the athletes view it from a much different perspective. They view it as a moment for national pride.
“You’re playing for something way bigger than yourself,” Duke said. “You’re playing for your country, and you’re representing a lot more people than just your school or your family, you’re representing the whole country. It’s super special.”
From a more nuts and bolts perspective as it relates to Michigan hockey, the first impact will likely be an absence from Fantilli, one of Michigan’s top scorers, in this weekend’s series against Michigan State. Though unconfirmed, with the Canadian camp starting this Friday and Fantilli missing practice on Monday, it’s expected that he’ll be unavailable to play this weekend.
The other impact is less immediate, less guaranteed, but more of an interesting sidenote. The NCAA men’s hockey season has the longest duration of any collegiate team sport. With a quick, but consistent pace of two games per weekend, back-to-back-to-back weekends without breaks, it’s a slog that begins in mid-september and runs through to April. The winter break is the only real pause in action for NCAA players, and it’s seen as a chance to rest.
“It’s important to rest your body a little bit, rest mentally,” senior forward Nick Granowicz said.
But those who end up qualifying for their nation’s team will go without that rest, and whether that impacts them later on in the marathon season will be an interesting storyline to watch.
For right now, the selectees will finish up their time with Michigan, and then quickly transition to the tryout process, each fighting tirelessly for the opportunity to represent their country.
“I’m honestly focused on Michigan State this weekend,” Duke said. “After that, my focus is making team USA, and putting everything I have into that tournament and just do whatever I can to help them win.”