College men's hockey: Three Bulldogs, Sandelin in search of World Juniors gold
With finals week fading in the rearview mirror, most of the Minnesota Duluth men's hockey team is heading home for the holidays this weekend.
Four are not.
Sophomore defensemen Mikey Anderson and Dylan Samberg, freshman forward Noah Cates and head coach Scott Sandelin are heading west to meet up with the rest of the U.S. National Junior Team in preparation for the 2019 World Junior Championship, to be held Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.
Anderson and Samberg helped Team USA win bronze a year ago in Buffalo, N.Y. They were two of five Bulldogs players on that team.
Sandelin, an assistant coach under Minnesota State-Mankato coach Mike Hastings, is on the USNJT staff for the third time in his coaching career after serving as head coach in 2005 and as an assistant in 2012.
For Cates — a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers and a native of Stillwater, Minn. — this is his first World Juniors experience. He's hoping it doesn't end with training camp, which begins Saturday in Everett, Wash.
"I just got to compete, do the little things, focus on the little details. That's my game and how I can make that team, and help that team win," Cates said. "It's very exciting to be named to that, and I'm just hoping to put my best foot forward with that group."
The U.S. roster currently stands at 29 players — three goaltenders, 10 defensemen and 16 forwards. Hastings, Sandelin and the rest of the Team USA staff have to pare the roster to 23 by the time the tournament begins Dec. 26 when the U.S. takes on Slovakia in Victoria.
A year ago when the Americans won their third consecutive medal — bronze in 2016 and 2018, gold in 2017 — they featured 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders.
As returnees, Anderson and Samberg are considered locks to make the final roster. Roseville, Minn.-native Anderson — a 2017 fourth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings — finished with an assist and plus-2 rating in seven games with Team USA in Buffalo while Hermantown's Samberg — a 2017 second-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets — recorded a goal, three assists and plus-10 rating.
Both players said they received a huge boost of confidence playing in last year's World Juniors.
"Coming back after an experience like that, no matter how it went, you're going to have some confidence coming out of it because of the elite level of talent you are with, you're playing against," Anderson said. "In a tournament like that, you're going to gain confidence just from being there. That was a big thing for us."
Cates, with four goals and three assists in 16 UMD games this year, seems to be in position to make the final Team USA roster. Sandelin lavished praise on him late last week, calling the rookie forward "versatile" and "consistent" — two traits that go a long way at the under-20 tournament.
"Excited to have him part of the group," Sandelin, a Hibbing native, said. "He's been consistent. He can play on a power play, he can play on the penalty kill. He can play center, he can play wing. He's got a lot of versatility to his game. He's had a really good start for us, and it's not always about points. It's about the value that they bring to the team. He's a guy right now that certainly brings a lot of value to our team."
Cates also brings a ton of skill, Samberg said. That's another trait necessary to play and succeed at the World Juniors.
"He possesses the puck really well and he's confident in his play," said Samberg, who was the second-highest scoring defenseman on Team USA last year. "He's a skilled forward, a playmaker. I feel like he has it all."
The U.S. team's initial training camp in Everett runs through Monday. The team transitions to Kamloops, British Columbia, beginning Tuesday before playing a pair of pre-tournament games on Dec. 20 in Kamloops against Russia and Dec. 22 in Langley against Czech Republic.
2019 Team USA World Junior Championship schedule
TV: NHL Network
Preliminary Round (CST)
At Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, Victoria, B.C.
Wednesday, Dec. 26: Slovakia, 5:30 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 28: Kazakhstan 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 29: Sweden, 9:30 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 31: Finland, 9:30 p.m.