Chris Brown will be the first to tell you how disappointed he was.
The U.S. Junior National Team held a tryout camp last summer to determine the United States team for the 2009 World Junior Championships, and Brown’s name wasn’t on the guest list.
“I used that as motivation to never stop working,” the freshman forward said.
So when Michigan coach Red Berenson told Brown and teammate David Wohlberg that they both have been invited to join the U.S. preliminary team, both were pleasantly surprised.
“It’s a tremendous honor just to represent your country,” Brown said. “I’ve had the opportunity to do it for the past few years with the (U.S.) Development Program, but to be on the world stage at a junior Olympic level is amazing.”
In addition to Brown and Wohlberg, 2010 commit Jon Merrill was among the 11 defensemen to be selected.
With the U.S. National Development Program Under-18 team, both Brown and Wohlberg had the opportunity to compete on the international stage. Brown won a gold medal last year at the World Under-18 Championships, and Wohlberg’s 2008 team garnered a bronze medal at the same event.
“I know what to expect having done it before,” Wohlberg said. “I’ve played those countries, and I know what to expect about them.”
Last year, then-sophomores Matt Rust and Aaron Palushaj were selected to the team, and both missed the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament, which coincides with the World Junior Championships.
If they make the team, Brown and Wohlberg, two of the Wolverines’ key players, will leave Michigan with a serious lack of depth at forward. Berenson knows the team will be forced to improvise in the tournament.
“We go through this every year,” Berenson said. “It puts holes in our game, and we obviously don’t have a lot of depth this year.
“As much as sometimes I hate to see them go, it’s an opportunity for them to represent their country in a great tournament. They only get one or two opportunities like this, and I think that’s a pretty special thing.”
But two trends could possibly be detrimental for Michigan next month. Players in the past have returned from the championships either fatigued from the constant hockey, often playing six games in nine days, or with a changed style of play after they compete with a completely different set of talent.
But Rust doesn’t think that’s the case.
After scoring just two goals before the World Juniors Championships last year, Rust broke out of his slump in a big way after the international event, scoring nine goals in the 21 remaining games.
“You’re playing against the best kids in the world and every team there is extremely talented,” Rust said. “The speed of play is faster, guys are stronger, the puck moves quicker, so you learn to up your ante for your play and that helps in the second half of the season here.”
And Brown assures that if he and Wohlberg make the final U.S. roster, neither will slump because of a style change, since U.S. coach Dean Blais knows what both bring to the table.
“We really don’t change styles,” Brown said. “Every coach knows I’m going to play physical and be a power forward, and I think that’s why U.S.A. Hockey invited me. It’s the same type of thing that I do here.
“It won’t be a hard transition back.”