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Groll, Johnson guide U.S. to Five Nations championship

 

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Californians Josh Groll and Ryan Johnson proved the international stage wasn’t too big in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

The duo, who is playing for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks 16U AAA team this season, helped Team USA win the U17 Five Nations Tournament for the sixth time in seven years during the last week in August. The Americans went 4-0 and outscored their opponents by a cumulative 26-5.

Groll scored in three of four games and finished with a total of four goals, while Johnson added a strike against Slovakia.

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Team USA coach Pat Ferschweiler, whose day job is assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings, lauded the pair’s contributions.

“Josh was a kid that showed elite character and work ethic all tournament, and he had an ability to score some goals,” he said. “He led by example – he was part of the engine that drove our team to the win.

“Ryan is an elite, elite talent whose game is still maturing. He thinks the game exceptionally well, and he also has elite offensive skills.”

Groll is a forward who had played for the San Diego Jr. Gulls and SDIA Oilers until this season, and he relished playing – and winning – with Johnson, a defenseman.

“It was definitely special since we’re new teammates,” Groll said. “It was great to bond with the entire team, but it was special having another Californian to share it with.”

Added Johnson: “It was awesome to win it with him and share that on the ice. We’re looking forward to bringing what we learned home to our team this season.”

Both players said the challenge of coming together as a team was eased by the players’ cooperative and inclusive spirit throughout their two weeks together.

“We made sure everyone got to know everyone else,” Groll said. “We didn’t have separate groups. There was a real team atmosphere.”

“I can take from (their leadership),” Johnson noted. “They led by example, and that was a big part of our success. (Josh and I) need to do it for our team.”

The tournament consisted of four games in four days. Team USA defeated Switzerland (8-1), Slovakia (7-1), Germany (6-0) and the Czechs (5-2) in succession.

Johnson, the highest-drafted Californian ever in the USHL Futures Draft (No. 3 overall to Sioux Falls) and Groll, who was selected by Omaha in the same draft, were chosen for the U17 team after their performances at USA Hockey’s Select 16 Player Development Camps. Johnson previously was invited to the U.S. National Team Development Program’s top-40 Player Evaluation Camp earlier this year.

“Ryan has been exposed to this type of thing a bit more,” said team manager Kenny Rauch, who also is USA Hockey’s director of youth hockey. “He’s a very exciting player between his skating and his skill set.

“I didn’t know a lot about Josh coming into this tournament, but he plays much bigger than his size (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), he plays hard and has an underrated skill set. He wins a lot of puck battles.”

That two Californians were regulars in the top summer competition for their birth year (2001) speaks well of what’s taking place in the state, Ferschweiler said.

“Back in the day, we saw skilled roller hockey players coming from California and now, they’re skilled overall hockey players,” he said. “Those two kids and the California kids I was lucky enough to coach at Western Michigan have great approaches – they listen and they’re trying to get better every day. They’re built for long-term success.”

Johnson said the overall experience was overwhelmingly positive, from seeing other parts of the world for the first time to playing against European teams.

“It was a great experience – being far away and winning,” Johnson said. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

— Chris Bayee

(Oct. 6, 2017)