Dec. 26, 2013
BY RYAN EVANS
UW Athletic Communications
MADISON, Wis. -- When Team USA's roster was released for last season's International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships, Wisconsin's Nic Kerdiles' was surprised not to find his name.
"I expected to be on that team," he said.
Despite his suspension last year, which cost Kerdiles the first 10 games of his freshman year, after talking it through with USA Hockey he was reassured he would still most likely find himself on the 2013 U.S. team. Instead, he found himself sitting at home watching his would-have-been teammates win the gold medal.
"I was happy for them, but it was tough," Kerdiles said. "I worked very hard to be on that team."
Kerdiles was bitterly disappointed about missing out last year, but that feeling has served him well. He used that disappointment as motivation and was driven to make the U.S.'s 2014 tournament squad, something he has accomplished thanks to the work he put in this summer and his torrid play since the middle of last season for the Badgers. Kerdiles will be looked to as a leader of this year's American team, which is seeking its second-straight gold medal -- and third in the last five years -- in this year's tournament, which will take place Dec. 26 - Jan. 5 in Malmo, Sweden.
Since he returned from his suspension last year on Nov. 30, Kerdiles has been one of the Badgers' top scorers with 50 points in 46 games (19 goals, 31 assists) and leads Wisconsin this season with 17 points (8+9) through 14 games. It's that type of production that the U.S. will be looking for in Sweden as Kerdiles will be slotted into one of the Americans' top two lines as either a center or a wing.
For his part, Kerdiles can't wait for the opportunity, especially after missing out last year.
"I have a little bit of a fire under me and am ready to show what I can do at that level," he said. "I'm excited to do that."
Having a Badger on the roster has meant good things historically for Team USA. The Americans have won World Junior gold three times in the competition's history -- in 2004, 2010 and 2013 -- and have had at least one Wisconsin player on the roster each of those times -- head coach Mike Eaves, forward Jake Dowell and defensemen Ryan Suter and Jeff Likens in 2004, forward Derek Stepan and defensemen Jake Gardiner and John Ramage in 2010 and current UW defenseman Jake McCabe in 2013.
McCabe captained the U.S. to gold last year in Russia, defeating defending champion Sweden 3-1 in the gold medal game. McCabe was named to the IIHF All-Star Team after the tournament after scoring three goals and six points and leading the U.S. with a +9 rating in seven games played.
"It was awesome," McCabe said of the experience. "We did some great things to pull together like we did. It was quite fun."
The experience of playing in last year's was enormously beneficial for McCabe, he said, as it allowed him to measure himself against the best players and best competition at his age group in the world. Four of McCabe's U.S. World Junior teammates are currently playing in the NHL -- forward Alex Galchenyuk and defensemen Seth Jones, Connor Murphy and Jacob Trouba.
"It is fun playing against the best players in the world and it's an eye-opening experience," McCabe said. "The biggest thing is seeing where you're at in your development."
Eaves, who coached Team USA to gold in 2004, added that for young players like McCabe and Kerdiles, the opportunity to compete on the highest stage teaches them to appreciate the finer points of the sport.
"He won't have a lot of time and space," Eaves said of Kerdiles. "The players in this tournament can really skate, they're all mentally tough and he will be pushed to his limits. It's the little parts of the game that are taught at that level that will help him in the long run."
Kerdiles is certainly no stranger to international competition, though, something that should help him make the adjustment from college to international hockey quickly and help him lead the way for the rest of his U.S. teammates. Prior to arriving in Madison, Kerdiles played for two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., and won gold medals in back-to-back U18 World Championships in 2011 and 2012, leading the team with four goals and nine points in the 2012 tournament.
He's hoping to add gold medal No. 3 to his trophy case this year.
"Three is a good number and I wouldn't mind getting that third one as a World Junior champion," Kerdiles said. "We have high expectations, but we know that there are some good teams out there, so we're going to come in, do our thing and hopefully win gold."
McCabe added that Kerdiles' international experience -- the two were teammates on the 2011 U18 gold medal-winning team - will serve him well in Sweden. European hockey has a much different style and is played on a bigger ice sheet than in North America, but with plenty of overseas experience to his credit, it shouldn't take Kerdiles long to adjust.
"He's had success at the international level and I am sure that he will have success at this year's World Juniors," McCabe said of Kerdiles. "He's going to be a big part of that team."
Only a finite number of players get to experience the thrill of pulling on a USA sweater in their careers, something Kerdiles is looking forward to doing again in this year's World Juniors tournament in Sweden.
He will be looked to lead the way for the United States' gold medal defense and the whole world will be watching, but Kerdiles isn't shying away from the limelight.
"Every time I get the chance to represent the U.S. it is exciting," he said. "It's a huge honor and one that you can never take for granted.
"I'm looking forward to showing what I can do under that spotlight."
Look for the entire 2014 World Junior Championship live on NHL Network.