Forward Josh Groll, a member of the Anaheim Jr. Ducks Midget 16U AAA team this past season, has become the club’s second player in two years to be selected for USA Hockey’s Under-18 Select Team.
Groll made the Select Team after a standout performance at USA Hockey’s Boys Select 17 camp, which concluded on Monday, at Amherst, N.Y. He will join 20 other 2001 birth years on Team USA at the prestigious Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which takes place Aug. 6-11 in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.
The tournament pits the top Under-18 teams in the world, and the field includes Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland.
Jr. Ducks alumni Slava Demin, a recent fourth-round selection by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, made the U18 Select Team last summer.
Groll, who committed to the University of Michigan during his Jr. Ducks season, was coming to grips with the selection when reached after the announcement.
“I’m really excited and happy for the opportunity, but it’s also really surreal,” he said. “I was working for it the entire camp.”
And work ethic is one of Groll’s calling cards, said Alex Kim, the Jr. Ducks’ director of player personnel and 16U AAA co-coach.
“Josh is a great kid. He has a great work ethic and compete level to go with all of his ability,” Kim said. “The club is really happy for him and this great opportunity.”
After Monday’s all-star game, all 40 all-star game participants were called into a room for the roster announcement.
“I had no indication this was coming, but I was hopeful,” Groll said.
This will mark the second international competition for Groll in two summers. Last year, he and Jr. Ducks teammate Ryan Johnson won a gold medal with Team USA’s U17 Select Team in the Five Nations Cup in Slovakia. Groll is one of nine players from the Five Nations Cup team to make the Hlinka Gretzky squad.
“It’s really cool to be able to do something like this again,” Groll said.
Groll was among eight players with ties to the Jr. Ducks at the Select 17 camp, a group that included Johnson, fellow defensemen Nicholas Kent and Jerrett Overland, goaltender Tyler Shea and forwards Joseph Harguindeguy, Jackson Niedermayer and Ethan Wolters. Johnson was unable to participate due to a leg injury.
“I feel bad for Ryan, but he’s a special player and he’ll have a chance to shine,” Kim said.
All but Kent were part of a 16U team that won a bronze medal at the USA Hockey Youth Nationals in April.
“It was a good year, and the coaches and my teammates pushed me into a good position for this summer,” Groll said. “(Kim and co-coach Craig Johnson) helped me prepare for these camps and get me to the level where these opportunities would come up.”
Added Kim, “That was a special team, and having good teammates contributes to this. But it’s a group effort. When you have good players and everyone wants to get better, they push each other.”
Johnson said Groll often provided a spark for the team.
“Josh was a big part of it,” the Jr. Ducks’ director of coaches said. “When you bring that work ethic and intensity to practice every day, others respond.
“It’s a great honor and one that’s well deserved. He can play anywhere in the lineup, and he proved in the Tier 1 (Elite Hockey) league that he can play with elite players.”
Groll will leave to meet his Team USA teammates on July 30. They’ll play an exhibition game on Aug. 4 before beginning tournament action on Aug. 6 vs. the Czech Republic.
It will continue what has been a busy summer for Groll and his Jr. Ducks teammates.
In June, Groll attended the main camp of the Omaha Lancers, who selected him in the USHL’s Phase II draft in 2017. Upon his return from the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, he will prepare for his first USHL season with the Chicago Steel, who acquired him in a trade last week as the Select 17 camp was opening.
Between now and then the game plan is simple: “Keep training,” Groll said.
Next month’s tournament, which was rebranded to the Hlinka Gretzky Cup after being staged as the Ivan Hlinka Cup since 2007 and the Phoenix Cup prior to that since its inception in 1996, will be held in North America for the first time since the inaugural year.
Team USA won the tournament in 2003 and has placed second nine times, most recently in 2016.