Nate Leaman has been here before.
He's back in Rogers Place once again ready to lead the Americans to another World Junior Championship title. This is a fairly new squad, though, with just six returning players, and, arguably, less talent to work with.
The Americans are expected to be a medal contender once more, even after losing its only exhibition game 4-3 to Finland. The Americans had a 3-1 lead late in the third until Red Savage was ejected for an illegal hit. Otherwise, it was a good effort in the team's first outing.
USA started slow, giving up the first goal less than five minutes in. They were able to recover well in the second half thanks to the likes of Matt Beniers and Brett Berard finding their way onto the scoresheet.
There isn't a singular big-name goal scorer on the American roster like Trevor Zegras was last year, so scoring as a collective will have to be a thing for Leman's group. Four different US skaters scored and seeing depth scoring from Dominic James and Tanner Dickinson is a good sign.
Leman knows that there are certain penalties his team has to avoid and the clearest example of that came on Savage's hit on Joakim Kemell late in the third period. The hit to the head resulted in a five-minute power play for Finland and a game misconduct penalty.
Leaman liked how his team recovered from their start, and knows the Savage hit can be seen as a bit of a learning lesson.
"I liked our middle, I liked our third period, I thought we were starting to play to our identity a little bit in the third period up until the penalty," Leaman said. "Obviously, the penalty is a tough lesson to learn, but I'd rather learn it in the exhibition than when the tournament starts. If you take a penalty like that when the tournament starts it could cost you the tournament."
Leaman gave Drew Commesso and Dylan Silverstein opportunities in the net against the Finns, but Commesso was always expected to be the team's No. 1. Leaman was happy with how Commesso looked, praising his play after allowing the early goal. Commesso's play was one of the strongest elements of the Americans game and it should give fans a sense of confidence for when the games do count.
"Drew's definitely our one," Leaman said. "He'll get our start against Slovakia, that's our plan, I thought he played a good solid two periods of hockey. Pretty pleased with that". Said Leaman.
Team USA should get out of Group B play in Red Deer, but it will be interesting to see how easy or challenging the round-robin will be and see how they clean up the little mistakes. The Americans have never won consecutive golds at the World Junior Championship, but Leaman hopes his group can change that -- and you can never, ever count them out at a junior hockey event.