Leafs prospects Biggs, Sparks make USA’s 24-man roster

The roster for the United States’ national team at the upcoming IIHF U-20 world championships was trimmed to 24 late last night, and to nobody’s surprise, Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospects Tyler Biggs and Garret Sparks both made the cut.

The US had some trouble in the pre-tournament games, as did Canada, dropping a 5-1 game to Finland for the last pre-tourney game and required overtime to defeat Sweden. The Americans still have one more cut to make, and they must do it before the tournament starts Wednesday, but it’s likely Biggs and Sparks both make the team. Biggs was used often in the pre-tournament games, while Sparks should be the third goalie on a squad that’s allowed to take three. We’ll see if he gets any action.

Here’s what Chris Peters at the United States of Hockey has to say about Biggs’ role:

Tyler Biggs – Cincinnati, Ohio — A big power-forward-style right winger who gets after opponents physically and can contribute offensively, Biggs should see time in a bottom-six role. Biggs isn’t overly skilled, but he has a good shot and a powerful stride. Even though he lacks quickness, Biggs finds a way to get where he needs to be. He’ll have to compensate on the bigger ice sheet, but the U.S. can use his grit and his ability to rise up in the big games.

That said, I see Biggs’ game as transferring quite well onto international ice. My impression of him is that he works low down well as a cycling, possession forward good at winning puck battles along the boards. It just so happens that there are lots of those in European hockey and the puck spends a lot more time further away from the net, which is Biggs’ weak point if you’re looking at his running goal totals in the OHL this season.

That said, my other read is that the USA will be doing their opposition a favour if they try to conform to the European style of play. American teams traditionally have very talented players at these tournaments and a lot of individual play. They ought to be using the extra ice rather than play down to the level of their opponents. I didn’t watch either of the pre-tournament games, but if Tyler Biggs is too involved in the US’s offence, they’re trying to play a physical, possession game in an arena wherein that just isn’t an advantage. Luckily, the US is in Canada’s group so we’ll get to wake up early to watch him play a tonne.

One other Biggs storyline: teammate Boone Jenner with the Oshawa Generals took a run at Swedish player Jesper Pettersson in Team Canada’s final tune-up. Jenner, known as the skilled guy on their line who gets the bulk of the points, sometimes plays like a bit of a hot-head. There’s a chance the IIHF could levy a hefty (and deserved) suspension on Jenner, which unfortunately wouldn’t allow us to see how Jenner plays away from Biggs. I think Biggs has been instrumental towards Jenner’s success this season, with smart, physical plays off the puck that keep possession in the opponents’ zone.

Here’s Peters on Garrett Sparks:

Garret Sparks – Elmhurst, Ill. — In the midst of a terrific season with the Guelph Storm, Sparks covers a lot of the net and has some really great athleticism. He seems to excel with more shots against, which is obviously a good thing for a goalie. He’ll probably trade off with Gillies, but gives the U.S. a solid 19-year-old goalie on the roster with a lot of work completed already this year.

Conventional wisdom is that the Kitchener Rangers’ John Gibson will see the bulk of the starts for Team USA.

Anyway, the US will finalize the roster for their squad in the next couple of days. It will be interesting to see how Biggs is used in that lineup, and the drama of the World Juniors every year sometimes surrounds just how the American team fritters away medal possibilities despite usually having exceptional talent on their rosters.

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