MANKATO — Zach Stepan believed he played well enough on Tuesday night to keep himself in the mix to make the final roster for the U.S. Junior National Team.
“I think I came out of the game all right,” the Minnesota State freshman said after playing for Team USA in an exhibition game against the Mavericks, “being out there for two (goals), not getting scored on. If you play the third line you want to be even or be a plus.”
Indeed, Stepan survived Wednesday morning’s cutdown and was off to Sweden with the team in the afternoon.
Team USA went into Tuesday’s game with 29 players, sitting five locks to make the roster, as well as a third goaltender and an injured player.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Boston College forward Ryan Fitzgerald, Michigan forward J.T. Compher and Sarnia Sting (Ontario Hockey League) defenseman Anthony DeAngelo had been cut. Compher probably was a lock to make the team but injured his foot blocking a shot in practice on Monday.
Stepan is now one of 26 remaining players —15 forwards, 8 defensemen and 3 goalies — and the team needs to get to 23 before the World Junior Championship begins on Dec. 26. The U.S. will play two exhibition games in Sweden — Friday and Saturday against Sweden and Finland — before releasing two forwards and a defenseman.
In Team USA’s 3-2 overtime win over the Mavericks, Stepan was plus-2 with three shots on goal. He played some penalty kill but was not on the ice for either of the Mavericks’ power-play goals.
U.S. coach Don Lucia called Stepan “a good utility guy.” “That’s one of his strengths,” the coach said. “He can play three forward positions, a little power play if necessary, some penalty kill. Versatility is one of his great strengths.”