Merrill a rock on defense for Team USA
Friday, 12.31.2010 / 10:06 AM / Features
By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer
"Jon has been a rock for us," Allain said. "I think he's really played better each game we've had him … through our exhibition schedule series and now three games into the tournament. Quietly, he's a leader by his presence, so we're really pleased with what he's done so far."
When pressed to provide any insight into Merrill's demeanor within the locker room or around the coach, Allain shook his head and laughed.
"I'm sorry, I have no little Merrill stories," he said.
Strangely, even Merrill can't determine how or even when his personality took shape.
"I don't know, it kind of comes from myself," Merrill told NHL.com. "I don't think any of my parents are like that at all, actually, I think my mindset came along when I was little. I kind of take life as it comes to me I guess."
Merrill is actually one of two players on the American roster currently starring at the University of Michigan -- wing Chris Brown is the other. The big defenseman leads the freshman class in scoring with 11 points, including 3 goals.
"Once you get to know him, he begins to open up," Brown said. "When he starts feeling more comfortable with the people he's around, like friends or teammates, he's open. He's a focused kid and in a tournament like this, you have to remain focused. He's funny when he wants to be, but he's a little reserved at times. But that's him, it's how he goes about his business."
Much like he does when opposing forwards are flying down wing with the hope of curling the 6-foot-3, 209-pound product of Brighton, Mich. The pairing of Merrill and captain John Ramage has been virtually lights-out for the Americans through three games.
"I think his calm demeanor reflects how he plays too," Ramage said. "He's kind of a goofy kid and a good guy to be around. He's a two-way defenseman who has a lot of offensive abilities, and is also very good defensively, so he makes it very easy to play with."
Merrill, who is playing in his first WJC, leads his defense in scoring with 3 assists and 4 points while Ramage sports a plus-2 rating.
"It's exciting to put on that USA jersey and represent your country, especially on a big stage like this because it means so much," Merrill said. "I still remember pre-camp as if it were yesterday because everyone is so uptight and tense … kind of on edge those first few exhibition games. But it's good for the team to have to compete and earn these things. Nothing is given to you."
Having success on an international level is nothing new to Merrill, who was named one of Team USA's best three players during Team USA's gold-medal winning effort at the 2010 World Men's Under-18 Championship in Belarus.
"He's a special player, has great vision, great hands," Brown said. "He also has that hockey sense and when you combine all those things and put a physical aspect to it, you get Jon."
Merrill also participated at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp, producing 3 assists in seven games against teams from Finland, Sweden and the U.S. Wherever he's played, Merrill has been a solid defensive contributor and has provided a little offense to boot.
"I try to be smart, starting with defense in my own end and, if I see an opportunity, jump up in the rush," Merrill said. "I'll jump up and pick my spots and, luckily, I've had some success so that's great."
Merrill admitted he hasn't paid much attention to the team that drafted him in the second round (No. 38) of the 2010 Entry Draft, the New Jersey Devils. While he is privy to their struggles this season, his focus is on doing everything he can to improve and one day make the big club.
"I know they're not having the best year, but other than that, I haven't really had time to talk to anyone at the organization," Merrill said. "To be honest, I'm just taking it day by day and not looking too far ahead."
Brown, selected in the second round (No. 35) by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2009, feels fortunate to have Merrill as a teammate at Michigan since it's almost impossible to beat the guy in practice.
"He's just so smart with the puck … and the plays he makes," Brown said. "He controls the game and controls what the other team needs to do to defend him. It's so hard, even in practice, because his stick is that good. When you're going down one-on-one against him, his position to the net is amazing."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale