Merrill a rock on defense for Team USA

Friday, 12.31.2010 / 10:06 AM ET / Features
By Mike G. Morreale  - NHL.com Staff Writer
Share with your Friends

Merrill a rock on defense for Team USA\r\n
Jon Merrill
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Defenseman Jonathan Merrill isn't the most outspoken individual -- he prefers to do most of his talking on the ice. U.S. National Junior Team head coach Keith Allain has taken notice during the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"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




1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69


K. Palmieri 82 30 27 3 57
A. Henrique 80 30 20 10 50
T. Zajac 74 14 28 3 42
M. Cammalleri 42 14 24 15 38
D. Severson 72 1 20 -8 21
R. Boucher 39 8 11 -13 19
D. Schlemko 67 6 13 -22 19
J. Moore 73 4 15 -12 19
A. Larsson 82 3 15 15 18
J. Blandisi 41 5 12 -14 17
C. Schneider 27 25 6 .924 2.15
K. Kinkaid 9 9 1 .904 2.81