http://www.nhl.com/intheslot/read/features/usa_wjc120803.html Team USA are gold miners in WJC By Alan Adams | NHL.com columnist December 8, 2003 Mike Eaves cringed when it was mentioned that the United States is favored to win its first gold medal at the 2004 World Junior Championship in Finland. "We are, are we?" says Eaves, who is the head coach of Team USA. Yes, according to more than a handful of NHL scouts. "They'll probably never have a better chance" to win the gold, says Toronto Maple Leaf head scout Barry Trapp, whose opinion echoes the consensus of NHL bloodhounds. Eaves likes the Americans' chance to mine gold for the first time, but you'd expect him to. He is the coach. But his list of contenders includes a handful of teams and not just his. "There is probably a blanket you could put on four or five teams there. The Russians will be good, the Czechs, Canada and the Finns are always tough in their own country," says Eaves. "There is a group of teams you could put a blanket on and it would be a tough call to make. But we will be one of the teams that will hopefully be competing in the medal round for some kind of hardware." The United States has two bronze medals and a silver medal to its credit since the first official WJC tournament in 1977. The last time the Americans collected a medal was in 1997 when they won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after losing to Canada, 3-2, in the semifinals. The 10-team WJC begins Dec. 26 and concludes Jan. 5 with the gold-medal game. The United States is grouped with Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Austria, while Canada, Finland, the Czech Republic, the Ukraine and Switzerland are in a second grouping. Eight teams advance to the medal round, while the two bottom teams are demoted to the world B Pool. The reason the Americans are favored this time out is simple: a preliminary lineup released last month includes 10 returning players from the team that finished fourth at the 2003 WJC in Halifax and 13 players who helped the U.S. win gold at the world under-18 championship in April. Eaves coached the under-18 team and he says that familiarity should help in Finland. "It will be like a relationship between a jockey and a horse. The horse knows the jockey and the jockey knows the horse so they have an innate understanding of what can be done," he says. "You have history and you know the strengths and weaknesses of people. It should be a positive." The preliminary roster includes six players who were taken in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft in June: Ryan Suter (seventh, Nashville Predators), Dustin Brown (13th, Los Angeles), Zach Parise (17th, New Jersey), Mark Stuart (21st, Boston), Ryan Kesler (23, Vancouver) and Patrick Eaves (29th, Ottawa). Eaves was asked whether he's worried that the pre-tournament hype will result in his players being over-confident. "I do not know what their mindset will be in terms of hearing all that stuff. I do know this group of kids is really a competitive group and that is one of their strengths," he says. "They will compete to the enth degree to get done what they want to get done. Because of the way they are, I do not think they will fall short of giving everything they have to attain their goal. They get along really well. For that core group of kids, going through a championship and earning that gold medal bonds them and they have become a band of brothers if you will." But for the Americans to leave Helsinki with the top prize they'll have to get past the semifinal game and the semis have been their world junior graveyard. They're 1-for-3 in getting to the final when they had the chance to tread on new ground. "That game is that bridge we have to get across. We can do all the things we want in the preliminaries but unless we get across that bridge, we have done nothing," says Eaves. "It has been our Achilles heel and hopefully this year we can get by it." But unlike the competition to the north of the United States, gold isn't the be-all to end-all as it is in Canada. The Canadian juniors head to Finland looking for gold and nothing less than gold. "It is a different culture, our society and Canada's society in the way they view the game," says Eaves, who played for the Calgary Flames for a couple years. "For them it is gold or nothing and that is one of the strengths and it is a vice a little bit. We have a different approach." Does that mean he'll settle for silver? "Anything short of (gold) ... this group of boys feel they have a real good chance to win because they've proven in the past they can win. But it is so tight and you can't count out a handful of teams." Nobody is counting out the Americans. But the buzz is the gold medal is theirs to lose.