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By AAHA, 09/05/17, 10:15AM PDT


A pair of Anaheim Jr. Ducks Midget 16U AAA players helped Team USA win the U17 Five Nations Tournament for the sixth time in seven years during the last week in August.

Defenseman Ryan Johnson and forward Josh Groll played keys roles in Team USA’s dominant performance at the tournament in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The Americans outscored their opponents a cumulative 26-5, and Groll tallied in three of the four games, while Johnson struck in a victory against Slovakia. Both players were lauded for their strong two-way games by the Team USA coaching staff.

“It was a great experience – being far away and winning,” said Johnson, a long-time Jr. Duck and son of 16U AAA co-coach and club director of coaches Craig Johnson. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Groll, who is joining the Jr. Ducks this season, centered a line and scored one of his goals on a shorthanded breakaway to help Team USA defeat the host Czechs in the deciding game, 5-3.

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

One of the biggest lessons, Johnson said, was how the team’s leaders carried themselves and rallied a group of players from around the country together so quickly.

“We had some practices before the tournament so there was time to play with teammates,” he said. “I can take from (their leadership). They led by example, and that was a big part of our success. (Josh and I) need to do it for our team.”

Having two members of a team that won a prestigious international competition can only help this season’s 16U AAA group, said co-coach Alex Kim, who is also the Jr. Ducks’ director of player personnel.

“They were confident players going into the tournament,” Kim said. “You hope they influence their teammates by how they work, and that motivates everyone to work harder.

“Being selected was well deserved for both of these players – it’s a testament to their commitment level. Ryan’s a very, very hard-working individual, and this is another example that shows all of the players in our club that hard work and commitment pays off.

“Josh has been a very good player in Southern California for a long time, one who obviously has worked very hard as well. It will be neat to coach him.”

After the U17 team gathered on the East Coast in mid-August, they flew to Europe for an exhibition game and practices. The tournament consisted of four games in four days. Team USA defeated Switzerland (8-1), Slovakia (7-1), Germany (6-0) and the Czechs 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 the Boys’ Select 16 Player Development Camps.

Winning aside, Johnson said the experience was overwhelmingly positive on other fronts as well, from seeing other parts of the world for the first time to playing against European teams.

“It was a lot to take in because everything was different, but it was an awesome experience to play that level of hockey with a good group of kids,” he said. “Josh and I want to keep that level up because the Tier 1 (Elite) League has a great level of play, too.” 

Added Craig Johnson, “To win a championship like that is a special accomplishment. Now they have to move on to what’s next, and they realize that. How will they grow from this? It was a learning experience– they got to see how good hockey is around the world.”

And the world got another reminder of the caliber of players California is producing.

- Chris Bayee