Published November 20, 2014
Based on his performances at the 2010 and 2011 World Junior Championships, it's no great surprise that Jack Campbell, barring injury, will go into the 2012 WJC as the No. 1 goalie for Team USA.
Campbell was in the net when the U.S. won the gold in 2010, and last year he backstopped the team to a bronze medal while taking home the tournament's best goaltender award.
While Campbell's talents on the ice are undeniable, Team USA goalie coach Joe Exter sees another reason why Campbell was able to raise his game to such high levels, especially last year in Buffalo.
"Jack Campbell had a great tournament last year and a big reason why he did was Andy Iles," Exter told NHL.com. "Andy Iles pushed Jack Campbell to bring his game to another level."
Iles played less than 10 minutes in six games at last year's tournament, but if you listened to U.S. coach Dean Blais during the just-completed USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., Iles has a chance to see his playing time go up at this year's tournament.
"Andy is going to push Jack Campbell a lot," Blais said. "He's certainly impressed us. He's going to challenge, in my mind, Jack."
In two full games and parts of two others at the evaluation camp, Iles stopped 88 of 92 shots, compiling a 1.35 goals-against average and a .956 save percentage.
Competing with players more highly regarded by NHL scouts is nothing new for Iles. In two trips through the draft, he's gone unselected. In fact, of the 44 players who started the camp, only three hadn't been drafted -- defenseman Brian Cooper, who is first draft eligible this year; defenseman Seth Jones, who won't be eligible until 2013, and Iles.
It's not likes Iles isn't worth some team taking a look at. He has a gold medal from the 2010 World Under-18 Championship, where he served as Campbell's backup, and he posted a 2.16 GAA in 29 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program's under-18 team in 2009-10. Last season, as a freshman at Cornell University, he went 8-7-2 in 18 games, but was fifth among all freshmen goalies with a 2.49 GAA and fourth with a .914 save percentage.
"It's been disappointing," Iles said of his draft status. "But I haven't fretted over it, I haven't let it ruin my game or ruin my development. There's a lot of great players who never were taken in the draft that had success and had successful careers. All I can do is focus on my game right now. If people like that and are willing to step up and take me in the draft, that's great. I keep practicing and keep developing my game and after my career at Cornell, hopefully there's an opportunity to play somewhere."
The only thing that could hold Iles back is the one statistic he'll never be able to change -- 5-foot-8 1/2, 175 pounds.
"I've lived the whole underdog role growing up, and that's something I've cherished," Iles said. "Being a little bit undersized, having to play with that disadvantage against great players that I see as my peers, but they're being first-round picks but I'm still sitting here undrafted, I've always had that position. But I like it."
He'll have another opportunity this season to show NHL scouts why they should take a shot on him. He'll have the opportunity to be the No. 1 goalie at Cornell -- last year's partner, Michael Garman, left school to play professionally -- and with another chance to make a World Junior team, could the third time through the draft be the charm for Iles?
"It's been like that for the last three years now," he said. "Every time you play at this level, when you're playing with great players like this, there's always people in the building watching. All you can do is go out there and focus on yourself. I haven't had success with my first two rounds through the NHL draft, but I've always told myself that if I keep working and keep developing my game and keep working hard and giving my team the chance to win games, hopefully good things will happen down the road."
Exter, who has known Iles since their days together with the USNTDP, has no doubt Iles will earn his spot with an NHL team.
"A lot of people look at his size, and he's going to have to overcome it," Exter said. "With his character, work ethic and abilities, I believe in the long run he will overcome it."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK