The coaches of the USA Hockey entry at the World Junior Championship know what they’re getting in three University of Wisconsin players who were among 29 named Wednesday to take part in an upcoming training camp.
Freshmen defensemen K’Andre Miller and Ty Emberson and sophomore forward Sean Dhooghe were selected for the group that’ll try to make the final roster.
They’ve been under the microscope by U.S. coaches and administrators in the first half of the Badgers’ season, with at least five in-person viewings.
USA Hockey saw enough in Miller, Emberson and Dhooghe — all alumni of the National Team Development Program — to give them a shot to make the roster for the under-20 tournament that runs Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.
“For sure, there’s always people watching,” Emberson said. “I think you take it in stride. You focus on the things you can focus on.”
Miller leads the Badgers with 15 points and a plus-9 rating and Dhooghe leads with seven goals through 16 games. Emberson has emerged as a solid-yet-unflashy player in the defensive zone.
U.S. head coach Mike Hastings of Minnesota State and assistant Scott Sandelin of Minnesota Duluth scouted the Badgers on consecutive weekends in November. U.S. assistant coach Steve Miller, associate head coach at Ohio State, saw the Badgers when they played the Buckeyes.
John Vanbiesbrouck, the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey and the junior team’s general manager, was at the Kohl Center early this season.
They’ll bring the three Badgers players and 26 others in for training camp starting Dec. 15 in Everett, Washington.
Fifty-four Badgers players have appeared on World Juniors rosters since 1978, but the last time UW had multiple players picked was 2010. Forward Derek Stepan, the U.S. captain, and defensemen Jake Gardiner and John Ramage won gold with the U.S. that year.
“Getting to go with some of your teammates, it’s an incredibly special moment,” Dhooghe said. “Obviously, we get along great. We have a great relationship. The more that can make that team, I think it’s a better honor.”
UW is off for final exams and the holidays after Saturday’s series closer against Michigan State at the Kohl Center, but it could be impacted when it returns from a three-week break.
If both Miller and Emberson are selected for the final roster and the U.S. participates in the final days of the tournament, the Badgers’ defensive depth will be stretched to its limit for their Jan. 4-5 home series against No. 6 Denver. UW has eight defensemen on its roster and six typically play.
Without Miller and Emberson, the Badgers likely would need more minutes out of freshman Jesper Peltonen, who has played sparingly in two games, and give senior Jake Bunz his first appearance in the lineup since March 11, 2017.
Miller, a first-round NHL draft pick of the New York Rangers in June, is probably the most likely of the UW players to make the final U.S. roster.
Before the preliminary group was announced, he looked ahead to the potential benefits of the midseason tournament for his development.
“That’s huge for the guys that are going to be on that team,” Miller said on Monday. “Once we get back, (we’ll have) a little bit more experience playing against those bigger, stronger, best players in the world. So it’s going to be a fun experience.”
Emberson’s right-handed shot could provide value if USA Hockey tries to match lefties and righties on its defensive pairings. Six of the 10 defensemen invited to camp are left-handed.
“At this level of the game, even the handedness of the defensemen might change who they pick,” Emberson said. “My game, I’m going to go into it confident and hopefully I’ll be able to make the team.”
Dhooghe led the gold medal-winning U.S. in scoring at the Under-18 World Championship in 2017. To make this team, he said he’ll have to show grit and tenacity and be a pest without drawing penalties.
“I think they’re looking for a whole package in everybody,” Dhooghe said.