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Americans enjoy being the hunted

Coach: Keith Allain (Yale University)

2010 result: Gold medal (beat Canada, 6-5, in overtime)

Tournament history: Team USA has medaled just six times in 34 tournaments (two golds, one silver and three bronze), but last year is all anyone needs to remember. The Americans won gold on Canadian soil and became the "bad boys" after singing songs and celebrating hard in the birthplace of hockey, which had won the previous five tournaments.

Are they brash? Yes. Are they bold? Heck yeah (though they'd probably prefer a stronger word than heck). Are they good? There is no doubt. Are they eager to try to repeat? That's the most definite yes available.

"We have a little more confidence," said forward Jerry D'Amigo, one of eight returning players. "We know we're going to be the team to beat. That's what we're going to have to go through. I think we can handle that, though."

Some teams shy away from lofty expectations, preferring to play an underdog role. The home team is fully embracing its status as favorite and defending champion.

"Anytime you defend a title, period, whether it's on Canadian, European or U.S. soil, you've sort of got a label," assistant coach Phil Housley said. "But I think we're going to enjoy that competition."

Players to watch: D'Amigo is one of four players on loan from professional clubs, with the Toronto prospect joining defenseman Nick Leddy (Chicago) and forwards Jeremy Morin (Chicago) and Kyle Palmieri (Anaheim). D'Amigo and fellow returning forward Chris Kreider tied for the team lead with six goals during last year's seven-game run to the title. Palmieri had a goal and eight assists, while Morin scored twice and added five assists.

Also back are goaltender Jack Campbell (2-1-1, 2.54 goals-against average, .923 save percentage), defenseman John Ramage (three assists) and forwards Ryan Bourque (three assists) and Jason Zucker (two goals).

"We know what it takes to win," D'Amigo said. "All of us went through that grueling process, that hard two, three weeks that we had together, so we've been through it, we know what it takes. We've just got to pass it along to the young guys."

The newcomers up front include Drew Shore, who has 14 goals in 20 games with the University of Denver; Nick Bjugstad, a 6-foot-4 freshman at Minnesota who scored seven goals to lead Team USA's evaluation camp; and Charlie Coyle, who centers the top line at perennial power Boston University.

Outlook: There's a four-letter word they can all say without getting flak: gold.

"We had a very fast team last year, and you're going to see a team here that I think can match that speed, especially up front," General Manager Jim Johannson said. "You're going to see a team that plays high energy and plays the kind of up-tempo hockey that the hockey fans like and the world junior tournament is all about."

The Americans are anticipating a rematch with Canada in the championship game, and they'd like to repeat in the States to again quiet many of the fans who will travel down from The True North.

"I loved it last year with everybody booing us," D'Amigo said. "It just gave us more reason to beat them on their home soil, so with the mixed fans it's going to be great."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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