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Brisson, Groll represent California, USA in world event

 

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Neither Brendan Brisson nor Josh Groll will blow you away physically.

Neither stands even six feet nor weighs more than a cup of coffee over 180 pounds. Yet put them in skates, and stature goes out the window.

Given the starts they’ve had to their junior seasons in the United States Hockey League (USHL) and the continuous growth in their games, it’s no wonder USA Hockey selected both California natives for the U.S. Junior Select Team that competed in the World Junior A Challenge in early December.

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As the calendar flipped to 2019’s final month, the 2001-born duo were among a group of players tied for 11th in the USHL in scoring with 22 points.

Brisson, a longtime Los Angeles Jr. Kings player and Manhattan Beach native, was the league’s highest-scoring rookie. He had nine goals in his first 20 games for the Chicago Steel.

“He has a lot of natural ability – puck skills, the ability to score goals,” said Steel head coach Brock Sheahan. “He’s an exciting player to watch, one of those guys you notice immediately.”

That doesn’t tell the entire story, however, Sheahan said. Brisson’s personality and work ethic are among the attributes that have him endeared him to teammates and placed him on a trajectory to rise through the ranks of the game. A late 2001 birth year, he’s on NHL Central Scouting’s updated watch list for the 2020 NHL Draft.

“Brendan is a pleasure to work with – he has a great personality,” Sheahan said. “He’s made a ton of progress this season in his details and his habits.

“He’s gotten better and better. He’s already an elite player in our league now, and he will be even better because of the time he puts in on the ice, in the video room and in the weight room.”

Groll played his first full junior season in Chicago in 2018-19, scoring 18 points in 53 games. The longtime San Diego Jr. Gull, who finished his Midget career with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, has taken off this season, with 11 goals among his 22 points in just 18 games for the Lincoln Stars.

“Josh was a really good player for us,” added Sheahan, who worked with the San Diego native last season. “He improved while he was here, and I’m not really surprised he’s doing that well.”

Groll was a “future consideration” in a trade the Steel made during their push to the Clark Cup Finals last season. It was the second summer in a row he changed USHL addresses after playing the end of 2017-18 in Omaha. His ascent isn’t all that surprising to Stars coach Cody Chupp.

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“Sometimes in our league it’s funny, whether it’s a change of scenery or a second year, players blossom,” Chupp said. “Josh is playing an active role for us – power play, penalty kill, top six in 5-on-5.

“He’s always been capable, but he put in a ton of work over the summer to prepare for a bigger role and he’s delivered.”

Groll, who is an excellent skater, brings another ingredient that bodes well both now and in the future.

“One thing that is overlooked is how hard he’s willing to play,” Chupp said. “He’ll forecheck, he’ll play a hard style. I didn’t realize that as much until I coached him.”

That made him an appealing choice for team in a short tournament setting, Chupp added.

“The tipping point for Josh is his versatility,” the coach said. “Not only is he highly skilled, but he is willing to go into those hard areas.

“He can play anywhere a team needs him to because he’s not a one-dimensional player.”

Team USA and their respective USHL clubs are the beneficiaries now, but the real winner in a few years is located a bit farther east. Both Brisson and Groll are University of Michigan commits.

Photos: Brisson/Chicago Steel, Groll/Lincoln Stars

— Chris Bayee

(Dec. 23, 2019)