Jim Johannson, general manager of the U.S. junior national team in the World Junior Championships, said the team this year will play at a high tempo, will compete all over the ice and will be fundamentally sound.

It is an experienced team, he said, 19 of the 22 players are in their final year of eligibility for the World Juniors, a tournament for players 20 years old and under.

"We are down to what we think is a very competitive team," said Dean Blais, coach of the U.S. team, during a teleconference call with media on Thursday afternoon.

"We are doing a lot of juggling right now and experimenting with the right combinations," said Blais, taking a short break from coaching Nebraska Omaha of the WCHA.

The U.S. team will play Slovakia on Friday in its final exhibition game and then face Denmark in its first WJC game on Monday. "A team we don't know much about," Blais said.

The other three teams in the U.S. team's group are Finland, the Czech Republic and Canada.

Finland is a competitive, hard-working team, Blais said, which the U.S. team played in Lake Placid, N.Y., last August. The Finns lost 3-1  to Canada, in an exhibition game this week.

"[The Finns] gave Canada all they wanted," Blais said. "The Czechs are always a tough opponent. And Canada is Canada. They are always in the mix of things. Obviously, playing in Calgary and Edmonton,  they are the favorites."

In 2010, the U.S. team  lost in a shootout to Canada in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in group play, then beat them in overtime in the championship game.

WHO ARE THE LEADERS?

"Leadership has to come from the seven returrning players," Blais said. "Without it you don't have a chance."

Gophers center Nick Bjugstad is one of those seven, although he hasn't played in the U.S. team's first two exhibition games because he is coming back from an injury.

Blais said he expected the team to vote on a captain Thursday evening.

BLAIS SAYS

* Blais on Gophers forward Kyle Rau: "Kyle certainly has really surprised me with everything. ... We have seen a lot of competitiveness come out in Kyle."

* On UMD coach Scott Sandelin, one of his assistants on the U.S. team: "Scott is one of my best friends. And  obviously he is  having success [with the Bulldogs]. ... But they've got to play us [UNO] ina few weeks and he better be worried. .. It is good to have people I can trust and I am familiar with."

* On Wild prospect Charlie Coyle: "He can play center or wing and we've got him playing both. He is good on the penalty kill. He had maybe his best practice [Thursday]. And he did wear a letter in our exhibition game versus Russia."

NATIONAL PROGRAM A BOOST

Since the U.S. national development program began 15 years ago, the U.S. team has won 65 percent of its international games at the 20-and-under level. Before it was establish, the U.S. was winning only 41 percent of its junior games.

Most of the players on the present team went through the national development program in Ann Arbor, Mich.

* Johannson said the U.S., which was the host of the World Juniors in 2005 in Grand Forks, N.D., and in 2009 in Buffalo, N.Y., will get it again in six years. "I am confident we will have it in 2018," he said. 

Next year the World Juniors will be in Ufa, Russia.