By Nathan Fournier
HAWTHORNE, N.Y. – Seth Jones is hungry to get on the ice at the IIHF World Junior Championship for Team USA.
The 18-year-old Portland Winterhawks defenseman made last year’s team, but an injury in the first exhibition game against Russia forced him to miss the tournament.
“That obviously sucked last year, the injury in the first exhibition game,” Jones said. “I am coming back, it’s a new year, I am going to be pretty competitive here (at the camp) and earn a spot on the team.”
Team USA head coach Phil Housley is comfortable putting Jones in any situation.
“I think if you put Seth in any position whether it’s college or junior he will excel,” Housley said. “He’s the full package for today’s game; he has the size, the strength, the defensive awareness and he can contribute offensively.”
But Housley won’t say publicly what role Jones will have come tournament time.
“We haven’t determined that, it’s our first day at camp.”
The 6-foot-4 Jones has eight goals and 20 assists in 31 games in his rookie season with Portland and knows he can’t take a shift off, even at the camp.
“I have to keep working and nothing will come easy,” Jones added.
With talk he’ll be a top-two selection in the upcoming draft, Jones knows all eyes will be on him in Ufa, Russia from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5.
“It’s obviously on your mind a little bit with the scouts watching,” he said. “You have to put all that stuff to the side and continue to play your game throughout the tournament.”
With the NHL lockout still in effect, the entire hockey world will be watching in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, Dec. 30 when Jones and the United States take on Canada and potential first overall pick Nathan MacKinnon (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL).
Team USA GM Jim Johannson said he hasn’t spoken to Jones about the pressure he will face in Ufa.
“He’s a well-ground kid who has accepted everything that has been thrown his way this year,” Johannson said. “He has done a great job. I will reiterate, he’s a kid that’s coming to play in his first world juniors. He’s going to be as excited as every other guy that’s playing in the locker room.
“Unfortunately, last year he got injured and couldn’t play in the tournament. Seeing it on TV he saw the successes we had and the failures we had.”
Notes: Sunday was the first day of USA Hockey’s world junior evaluation camp where 27 players are battling for 23 spots. Four players will be going home, but not before a trip to Helsinki, Finland. USA Hockey announced they will make the final cuts on Dec. 23.
“We have three days here, we wanted to have the time to evaluate the (exhibition) games over there (in Europe),” Johannson said. “We will be taking all 27 guys to Europe.”