Di Giuseppe, Merrill invited to exclusive World Junior camps

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Sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill will join the US National Juniors Team for the second-consecutive year. Buy this photo

By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 7, 2011

Freshman forward Phil Di Giuseppe has developed into one of the Michigan hockey team’s most reliable scorers. His eight goals this season put him in a tie for first place on the Wolverines’ roster and any teammate will attest that he’s not just an average 18-year-old hockey player.

So it comes as a surprise to see that Di Giuseppe will be a scratch in Saturday’s game against Michigan State.

It has nothing to do with injuries — Di Giuseppe will be returning to his native Canada where he’ll attend a week-long training camp for the Canadian Junior National Team, which announced its roster at the end of last month.

“This summer, (Di Giuseppe) went to the (Canadian junior team’s) camp and had a real good camp,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Then when he had a real good start here, it was understood that he’d be invited.”

The World Junior Championship kicks off after Christmas and pits 12 countries from North America and Europe against each other. It’s exclusively for 18 to 20 year olds and only involves the best — the top scorers, skaters, defensemen and goalies.

On average, Michigan sends two players each year to training camp, and
Berenson is happy to support them — he thinks it’s important for the players to have experience at the international level.

But at the same time, it’s tough to lose Di Giuseppe, especially for a big road game against a rival.

“(Letting Di Giuseppe go) is not a pleasant decision,” Berenson said. “I don’t like to lose these players, but that’s the way it is. I’m trying to do what’s best for the kid.”

Junior forward Chris Brown won a bronze medal for Team USA in last year’s tournament and knows that players leave the camp as better hockey players than when they first arrived.

“You play against the best 20-and-under kids in the world,” Brown said. “You have to elevate your game that much more to compete and keep up. When you play at that tier, you can bring that back here.”

Di Giuseppe wasn't the only Wolverine to receive an invitation — sophomore Jon Merrill was named to the USA’s preliminary roster for the second consecutive year. The defenseman only started skating with Michigan in the last month and a half following a suspension, and he has yet to see any game action for the Wolverines.

According to Berenson, Team USA was aware of his suspended status before naming him to the roster.

“(Merrill) went to their camp this summer,” Berenson said. “He’s in a good position with that program. We support the fact that Jonny should be given an opportunity to play.

“(Team USA) understands that he’s been practicing with the team. He’s got our blessings and he’ll be a good candidate.”

There is still no concrete timetable as to when Merrill will see game action again for Michigan, but playing with the WJC will give him the game experience he’s been missing for the first half of the season.

Brown said that though no player is a “shoe-in” just because he played the previous year, he thinks Merrill has a good chance at making the team again — he was Team USA's top defenseman last year.

Di Giuseppe was an obvious pick for the preliminary roster, but the Canadian coaches will see if he is skilled enough for the final roster, which will be decided on Dec. 14. The final roster for Team USA will be decided on Dec. 22.

Between 30 and 40 players are named to the preliminary lists, and by the end of camp, that number is whittled down to about 20.

The camp is tough — it must to be if only the top skaters are invited. But Berenson and Brown are confident about Di Giuseppe and Merrill’s chances of making the final cut.

“I think both (Di Giuseppe and Merrill) will make it and do really well,” Brown said.

Then he added with a smile: “But I hope the US wins, obviously.”