It may seem odd to praise USA Hockey on a site that is predominately filled with Canadian hockey fans, but as the US lost to a much more skilled Team Canada 2-1 yesterday it seemed clear that the Americans were much more capable of playing as a team and it was their strong systems, positional play, and familiarity that kept the game so close.
While the U-20 roster has already been dispersed from the National Development Program, the majority of these players on the U.S. roster (13 out of 23) have roots in the National team system. Meaning, there are familiar defense pairings that can be relied on, players like Grimaldi, Miller, Lucia, and Biggs who know what their linemates are going to do, and goaltender in John Gibson who has been working with Mike Ayers since he left midget hockey.
I think of how every year Canadian goaltenders become the target of criticism. Is it possible that Malcolm Subban could be even better if had spent his two first years of junior hockey spending everyday with Ron Tugnutt? (Subban probably, but not Mark Visentin, he’s just a bad goaltender.) Would Team Canada benefit from having the majority of the players coached knowing a system that will likely be implemented in international competition? It wouldn’t be hard imagine that Rielly looking even better out there if he had spent the past two years with Xavier Oullett as his defensive partner, not the cast of misfits that have been rotated through beside him in Moose Jaw.
Looking at the schedule of the US National Teams, there is a huge benefit in the player development as well. They have had their players exposed to older, tougher competition at a much younger age which certainly puts an emphasis on strength and conditioning earlier in a player’s career. They are available for a greater number of international tournaments, which gives them a lot more exposure to other countries National teams and their unique playing styles. And of course, this gives you the basis for a team that is ready to compete in the Under-18 tournament, which usually has a poor showing for Canada because of players being tied up in the CHL playoffs. I’d suggest that you could even include the National Development Teams in the Memorial Cup and give them a chance to play against top competition while expanding on one of the most underrated tournaments in the sport.
The logistics of bringing about a national team program seems like a challenge, the biggest being the impact of poaching the most talent players from the CHL bantam drafts, and building a schedule that is balanced and competitive.
While a Canadian National Team Program may never happen, it’s an interesting option to consider, and is one that has the potential to engage more Canadians in the excitement of junior hockey for more than two weeks a year.
Some New Years Eve links…
Puck Daddy’s 2012 Alternative Year in Hockey Awards
Somehow I had never seen that CTV piece on the Leafs.
Canada Finds Success Against U.S. with More Aggressive Attack
Morgan Rielly is good at hockey.
Union to Talk with NHL Monday
It will get done at some point.
Expanding the Playoffs
I’m against it.