The event – featuring the best Under-20 hockey players from 10 different nations – is at the halfway mark of the preliminary round.
After squeaking past Finland 3-2 in overtime and then crushing Slovakia, 6-1, and with relative lightweights Germany and Switzerland remaining Thursday and Friday respectively, the U.S. is an overwhelming favorite to win its group and advance straight to Monday’s semifinals.
It’s at that point when a tough test will await the Americans – most likely Sweden or possibly arch-rival Canada. Kreider said by that point he expects both the team and himself individually to be firing on all cylinders.
“I think I can play better. I feel I’ve got more to give,” said the 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward who is a sophomore at Boston College. Kreider also played with the Masconomet High School hockey team prior to suiting up for Phillips Academy of Andover. “The big thing with this tournament is you want to get better as the tournament goes on and wind up to a climax at the end. So far, not just myself but everyone on the team has achieved that. We’re getting better game by game, period by period.”
But Kreider, who has collected an assist in each of the first two games, cautioned that he is a little concerned about the team becoming too complacent after its 6-1 win over Slovakia Tuesday.
“It’s always a worry. Whenever you win a game, you’re worried about how you’re going to respond. It speaks volumes about your character, how you come off of a win,” he said.
Bourque, who plays for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after a prep career at Cushing Academy, said he feels he’ll have to be more of a high-impact “spark plug” for the team if the U.S. is to win its first-ever Under-20 gold medal on home soil.
“I think I’m going to have to provide a lot of energy for my team and just try to energize the group,” said Bourque, who had one assist in the Slovakia game after being shut out against the Finns. “I think on the penalty kill I’m going to play a big role in that and try to keep the puck out of the net and I think chip in offensively too.”
Kreider and Bourque – who are both 2009 draft picks of the New York Rangers – are among eight returning players who were on the U.S. team that stunned Canada last year in Saskatchewan, halting Canada’s title streak at five. Both feel strongly that although they have yet to show their best stuff, they are much better players than they were one year ago.
“I feel a whole lot stronger, a bit more mature,” said Kreider. “I feel a lot more comfortable going in the corners with guys. I think I’ve learned a lot – more positionally sound, definitely more responsible in my own end.”
Bourque added that with “a year under my belt I think I know what to expect, both the ups and downs of this tournament.”
“I know how hard it can be and I know how tough it is on you both mentally and physically," added Bourque, an alternate captain for Team USA. "So I think also just I bring that leadership aspect too to the team, having been here a year before. It’s great knowing what to expect in the competition and just trying to lead out there by example and if something needs to be said in the locker room I’ll say it too.”