While the NHL & NHLPA are still throwing hissy fits instead of working together to figure out the next CBA agreement, hockey fans all over the world have turned their attention elsewhere. Any credibility left amongst Gary Bettman is lost along with the handful of selfish, ego driven owners that happily catch him in week 11’s trust fall exercise.
As the AHL, OHL, WHL, KHL, QMJHL & ECHL have helped frustrated hockey fans fill their void, one of the most exciting tournaments that occurs annually is the World Junior Championships taking place this year in Ufa, Russia at the Ufa Arena. While some of the New Jersey Devils prospects this year are playing in Albany or with their respected teams elsewhere, 18 year old Stefan Matteau will certainly be a pest for opponents from December 26th through January 5th.
Matteau is the second largest skater on the ice at 6’2’’ 217lbs from Chicago, and is known to play an agitator role. The Devils have had their fair share of agitators in their system since 1982 which includes the latest trio of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, and Steve Bernier who created plenty of headaches for opponents during their 2012 Stanley Cup run.
While you’ll probably never see Matteau occupy a 1st or 2nd line spot, he can provide Team USA with the depth and strength they need to make a run at a medal. He comes with a lot of energy and passion for the game of hockey and loves to play an “in your face” game. While that could put Team USA down a man several times, that type of player is needed and can be very effective, if common sense also gets applied.
Despite Canada being the favorites this year having a stacked roster and several other teams competing that could make some noise, Team USA does have the leadership from several key prospects to make a run and reignite the spark the hockey world has lost in this mess of “negotiations.”
NHL Network sat down with the first round pick and here’s what he had to say on the upcoming tournament. “Obviously we don’t want to repeat what happened last year, (USA finished 7th in the standings) coach hasn’t said anything about it and hasn’t bought it up yet as it’s more of a re-rack and start over situation. We got a good team, lot of speed this year but everyone has it in the back of their minds. Obviously we want to win. We just gotta play our hearts out, buy into the team concept, everyone comes from different teams and you just have to buy into your roles once you’re here because not everyone necessarily is going to have their same role. You have to buy into your role here and team first.”
Team USA kicks off their competition with two preliminary games. Thursday December 20th vs Sweden at 12:30am and Saturday December 22nd vs Finland at 6am with no rerun scheduled. All games will be aired on the NHL Network and Team USA will face off with Germany on Thursday December 27th at 9am for their first World Juniors contest.