Alex DeBrincat Cut, USA Still Wins

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Stephanie Racker There was a lot of uproar after Team USA announced that Alex DeBrincat was a part of the final roster cut for their 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Junior Championship team. Regarded as one of the most elite stars of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), DeBrincat was picked up by the Blackhawks in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft, going 39th overall. He currently boasts 69 points in just 36 games this season with the OHL Erie Otters. Based on his talent and having also won bronze with Team USA in last year’s World Junior Championship (WJC), USA’s decision to cut him was a surprise to many. There’s speculation that this move was rooted in the politics of hockey—his affiliation with the OHL junior league.   Team USA tends to prefer college hockey players, typically shying away from junior league players. College hockey is one of the most fundamental aspects of Team USA’s development programs, so any chance the organization has to promote players from the collegiate circuit is seized. In fact, 19 players out of the 23 man roster for this year’s WJC team currently play college hockey (seven of whom are members of Boston University’s team). Based on these numbers, it seems pretty obvious that competing in college hockey is an asset to any player hoping to play on Team USA. Although this angle is a fan favorite as to why DeBrincat was robbed of a chance to compete in the WJC, Team USA denies having based their decision on DeBrincat’s role in the junior league and instead stated that it was based purely on DeBrincat’s performance in training camps.   It seems easier to blame Team USA’s politics for DeBrincat’s last minute departure, but in reality, he probably just didn’t fit in with the roster that had already been meticulously developed. Part of DeBrincat’s problem did in fact stem from him not participating in the college hockey circuit, however not for political reasons, but rather that he lacked familiarity with the majority of players on Team USA’s roster. What helped contribute to Team USA’s success in the competition could be largely credited to the already established chemistry between players because so many of them were either teammates or had regularly played against each other in college. As a result, the team had a level of compatibility and awareness of each other’s playing styles that was invaluable. In fact, the seven players from Boston University added a whole other level of team chemistry because they were not only teammates, but close friends. Given these dynamics, DeBrincat was already at a disadvantage in terms of meshing well with Team USA’s style. Not only was there the issue of chemistry, but DeBrincat’s position as a forward also put him in a tough spot. Team USA was stacked with offensive talent and DeBrincat had struggled to stand out in the summer training camp leading up to the tournament. He didn’t harbor the same offensive flash as many of the other forwards, like center star and 7th overall draft pick Clayton Keller. Keller not only dominates the ice, but his style of play mirrors NHL star Patrick Kane. Both Kane and Keller are players that shine when their line mates are able to frequently set up plays that allow them the freedom to utilize their offensive talent. Therefore, it became far too difficult to accommodate room for DeBrincat in the lineup, for he was another player whose skill set relied on being extremely puck possessive. This fact, coupled with competition for ice time between the team’s other brilliant forwards (such as Tage Thompson and Colin White), further diminished DeBrincat’s chance on Team USA.     For Alex DeBrincat, things just didn’t end up the way he had hoped this year. Maybe he was cut because of Team USA’s tie with the college hockey system and the players within them. Maybe it was because DeBrincat couldn’t match up to the speed and playing style of the rest of the members of Team USA’s roster.  Whatever the reason, it didn’t seem to matter; Team USA won gold for only the fourth time in the tournament’s history. In my opinion, a team victory is far more important than whether or not one player was cut from the roster.]]>