Hockey fans on both sides of the border circle dates on the calendar any time the United States and Canada face off in international competition.
The same applies for players and coaches and, to them, it matters not if the game factors in to standings, as was the case at the 2013 USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp held in Lake Placid, N.Y.
For the first time Canada joined the U.S., Sweden and Finland for practices and exhibition games. Team USA faced its rival on the final day of camp Aug. 10 and came away with a 5-1 victory.
The exhibition victory was rewarding for U.S. players and coaches, but also from an evaluation standpoint for all teams, said Jim Johannson assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey.
“When you can evaluate your players in the bigger games you can find out more about them.”
“It’s just another good competitive evaluation game,” he said. “It helps all the teams here to play a new opponent in one more game. It does get hard in these camps if you just play the same opponent several times. For all of us it makes the hockey better, a little fresher.”
It was obvious the American players took the game to heart as Quentin Shore scored two goals to lead the team’s best effort in the camp games. A record crowd of 2,400 watched the game on the 1980 Rink and cheered every U.S. goal and save loudly. The game might have been an exhibition on paper, but it had all the trimmings of a rivalry that fans have come to expect.
“It adds a little bit of spice to it,” Shore said about having Canada in the camp.
U.S. head coach Don Lucia said the chance to have a big game in an August camp helps him and his staff evaluate the players on another level.
“When you can evaluate your players in the bigger games you find out more about them,” he said.
Canada visited the camp for the first time but officials in both camps said the endeavor was valuable and would likely continue.
“It’s been great,” Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s senior director of hockey operations and national teams, told NHL.com. “Any time you can play meaningful games in August when you’re trying to evaluate players and prepare your team, it’s a great experience.”
Johannson said the level of play and the evaluations that can come from that added pressure were the biggest incentive to bring the teams together again.
“It’s good for hockey and there’s a lot that goes into it and we certainly hope we can keep things going with them,” Johannson said.
Cameron Eickmeyer is the managing editor of USAHockey.com.