|Michael Mersch at camp (photo by Cikiri)|
Playing for your country is something every hockey player takes very seriously. It’s a true honor.
To play on an international stage is a process also. And for the top under-20 year old Americans, the first step towards wearing that jersey at the upcoming World Junior Championships is taking place right now.
USA Hockey’s week-long summer evaluation camp began last Saturday. After a few scrimmages and then some split-squad games with Finland and Sweden, the roster was trimmed from 44 invitees down to 28.
Mersch, a former member of the U.S. National Development Program, was kind enough though to check in with us when he returned home yesterday. Here are some thoughts on his experience…
– On the overall experience of being in historic Lake Placid, NY: “There were a lot of good players at the camp and it was great to be on the ice skating with them. I felt pretty good about my play out there. Obviously, things didn’t work out. But, I gained some confidence, knowing I can play with the best players in the nation. So, it was a good time overall. Going there and playing for the USA, with all that history and tradition there, being able to skate on that ice, it’s very exciting. History brings a lot of motivation.”
– On being part of the white team (with Forbort), versus the blue team (featuring Gravel and Shore): “I’ve played with all those guys before. It didn’t really make a difference what team you were put on. I had a chance to play with some of my old teammates again and it was great to catch up with them. Playing together is always fun and seeing those guys, being out spending time with them is always good. On the ice, I worked hard. That’s all I can ask for out of myself.”
– On the pre-camp advice he received from Shore: “He had been there the year before. So, he just gave me a little heads up on what it was about. He said to just play your game and you can’t really worry about too much while you’re there. He also said to focus on yourself, work hard and do what you can. Even though it’s always tough when you don’t make a team, he said it was a good experience and he was excited to go back and have a chance to do it all over again this year.” (note: Shore was invited to the summer camp last year, but did not make the final WJC roster in December)
– On his apparent chemistry with Shore, as evidenced when they were in LA together last month for Dev Camp: “I would have loved to play with Nick again. He’s a great player. He thinks the game real well. Being able to play with him before, the communication was very high. When you can have that, you can succeed by working hard together.”
– On the play of Forbort in camp (they were on the same team): “He makes that first pass real well. When he skates the puck up the ice he’s a smooth skater. He sees the ice real well and can make plays, make things happen. He’s smart and he’s simple, which makes him a great player.”
– On the play of Gravel, who played on the opposing team: “I didn’t really get a chance to pay attention to him too much and to what he was doing. But, he’s a big body and he moves the puck up and he’s simple as well. He’s a good player too.”
– On Saturday’s scrimmage, team blue won 4-3: “I felt I played good on the walls, getting the pucks out of the zone. That’s what I was focusing on – being a fourth-line player, shut down guy, blocking shots. All the little things that make me a good player. Points are nice to come by, but when you do all the little things, that’s what coaches like. Plus, they had shown us a video of previous teams as well – with what they expect out of us, etc. I felt I did a good job at that stuff. So, I was pretty happy with my play.”
– On Sunday’s scrimmage, team white won 4-2: “It was good to get the win against them. There was a lot of skill on that ice and everyone was working hard. But, it was good to get the win and it gave everybody a little more confidence and we brought it over into the games against Finland (on Monday) and we beat up on them pretty well.”
– On Monday’s game against Finland, team white won 5-3: “When you go out there and play another country there’s a lot more motivation and determination in the game, compared to when you’re playing kids from your own country. You represent our country every time you put that jersey on and being able to do that was a huge honor. We made some good plays and had some good hits. Then, we picked up the win as a team too, which is always nice.”
– Were there any team bonding events away from the rink and/or were than any pranks being pulled by some of the guys in camp? “There weren’t as many pranks as there were memories with the guys I played with before at the (USNTD) program. Things like that, just bringing up memories and having good laughs. It was a little more tense out there though. Everybody is trying to fight for spots. So, there weren’t any huge pranks went on, at least that I knew about. It was basically hockey, resting up and making sure you’re recovering and doing all the small things. It was more hockey based than doing other stuff away from the rink.”
– Who was the player you were most impressed with in camp? “Jack Campbell, the goaltender. This is going to be his third year. He sticks out to me right now. He’s already great, but he’s going to continue to get better and one day he’ll be in the NHL. He was on the other team. So, we had to try and create second opportunities against him – second and third opportunities, to try and get it past him. He does it all real well. He’s athletic, he works hard and he’s big. What more can you ask for?”
– What are you most proud of and what would you do differently if you could?: “I think playing hard is my game and I think I did that real well. Being simple, that’s what I’m good at. If I could change one thing though, obviously I’d want to score a goal and put some points up – which is always nice to do.”
You know what would be even nicer? Being invited back for the selection camp in December. That’s the next step in the process. Team USA will host a group of players in early December, from which they’ll select the final WJC roster.
Until then, he’s going to spend a few weeks with his family. Then, he’ll be back on campus at the University of Wisconsin around the 22nd.
The Badgers are scheduled to play all three of his Team USA-LA Kings peers this season – Forbort (University of North Dakota), Shore (University of Denver) and Gravel (St. Cloud State University).
Mersh will be back on MayorsManor during the season to preview or recap one of those series.
Until then, be sure to check out some of the other LA Kings / college hockey articles linked below.