Monday, February 27, 2006

Team USA-Version Next

photo: usahockeymagazine
Adversity Can Become Opportunity for Team USA
The hockey world might as well get used to JJ's John Elwayish smirk

A changing of the guard is underway, and I look forward to the long overdue change. The miserable performance of Team USA last week has caused many to long for the days of a US Olympic team composed of college kids. Others argue that once the best in the world no longer play, you have a vastly more watered down product. You think interest was down this year? Wait till Team USA reverts to Billy Schmidlap from Lake Superior State centering Team USA's no. 1 line. That's sure to attract the largely female olympic-watching demographic - NOT! For USA hockey, unless we're deeply engaged in a cold war with a fellow hockey power, only a tradition of winning will attract attention and US viewership in 2010.

Despite the debacle of Torino, I think USA Hockey is moving towards a future that will still put the best US-born players on the ice, and many of those players will have grown up playing together in the U-17 and U-18 national teams. I think the future of USA Hockey will not be a series of ad hoc teams comprised of independent contractor-NHL millionaires. By 2010, Team USA will be NHL millionaires who have a strong sense of national identity, and a history of playing together in high-pressure international tournaments.

Mike Modano's post-Torino blast at USA Hockey may just speed the transition to a national selection program that keeps faith with the kids who rise to prominence as players in the National Team Development Program (NTDP). John-Michael Liles, Rick DiPietro, and Jordan Leopold are all alumni of the program, and the list will undoubtedly grow as players like Ryan Suter, Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson, Phil Kessel, and Miami Redhawk Nathan Davis make their way to the NHL. The NTDP has only been putting teams on the ice since '97. That original roster included DiPietro, and NHLers David Tanabe, Adam Hall and Andrew Hutchinson. It's now attracting some of the best and brightest (ex. Jack Johnson). Three of NHL Central Scouting's top North American skaters ('06 mid-term rankings) are current NTDP players.

By the Time Vancouver '2010 rolls around, Tkachuk, Guerin, Chelly and Hatcher will be working the sports memorabila circuit and Team USA will be younger, meaner and more united than ever. They will have grown up playing within a system and with a history of covering each other's back. How sweet would it be for Hurricane blueliner, Jack Johnson, to roll back into Vancouver on a gold medal squad? I can see him now standing on the medal platform, that huge smile on his face, soaking up all the boos from a crowd of bitter Canucks who no longer have George Bush to hate, but who still loathe Johnson for the elbow he applied to Steve Downie's mellon in the '06 WJC.

If it happens fours years from now in Vancouver, it won't be because the US has placed the whole of it's national prestige on the shoulders of the squad. It will be because like the Miracle on Ice team of 1980, Team USA will already be a band of brothers.


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CasonBlog said...

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d-lee said...

I'm sorry, but I just don't agree with you on this point:

By 2010, Team USA will be NHL millionaires who have a strong sense of national identity,

I think we're a LONG way off from getting to a point where our hockey players are as proud to be American as, for example, the Finns are to be Finnish. Thankfully, this year's team didn't have any Bode "What's in it for me?" Miller types, or it would have been much worse.

A lack of long-standing national pride is part of the problem. And I agree that using NHL players is also part of the problem.

If we were to use guys who have been, as you suggest, through the NTDP together, they might have more cohesiveness. A better "unit", yes. A better sense of national identity or national pride? I'm not so sure.

It might take countless hours of exposure to propagandist materials to inspire more of a sense of national pride.

I may just be spouting off.

CasonBlog said...

David-If you apply a military history dynamic, you'll find that guys tend to fight well for each other first and their nation second. My thought is the NTDP might prove a very useful tool in building a personal bond between future Team USA players first and foremost. It can have a national pride element, but at its core, it's guys pulling for one another.

I think the biggest possible whole in my arguement is if the NTDP proves a lousy operation and top-notch talent starts to go elsewhere.