Team USA is transforming. Where once the names leading the team were Modano, Roenick, Amonte- the new guard is comprised of Kane, Kessel, and Parise. Along with those players are many on the 2009 Wortld Championship American entry who will not only lead the USA Hockey program internationally, but their respective NHL teams. This is an exciting time as there is plenty of potential for the new group to build on the success of the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and how American hockey is viewed throughout the world. This World Championship will be a great testing ground for the Americans but they are not simply experimenting here in Switzerland but out to compete for a medal.
Experience is the key here as Robert Esche makes his return to the World Championships. This marks Esche’s third time representing Team USA at the World Championships. Esche enjoyed his best NHL success with the Philadelphia Flyers where he won 60 games in four seasons. In 2003, Esche shared the William Jennings Trophy with Roman Cechmanek and Martin Brodeur. Esche earned his stripes for Team USA when he debuted at the 2000 World Championships with a shutout against Russia in St. Petersburg. Phoenix Coyote netminder Al Montoya makes his debut for the senior men’s team. Montoya, a New York Rangers first round draft pick in 2004, starred for Team USA at the 2004 U20 World Championships. Montoya backstopped the Americans to its first ever gold medal in the tournament and was named best goaltender. Montoya made his NHL debut for the Coyotes on April 1 where he shut out the Colorado Avalanche. With his debut, Montoya became the first Cuban American to play in the NHL.
The American defense contains veterans with World Championship experience. Keith Ballard and Ryan Suter lead the way having represented Team USA a combined six times. After spending his first three seasons in the NHL with the Phoenix Coyotes, Ballard was traded to the Florida Panthers. Ballard is one of the better hip checkers around and established himself as one of the leaders on the Panthers. His presence will no doubt be of significant value to Ron Wilson. Ryan Suter came into his own this season with the Nashville Predators, enjoying career highs in assists (38) and points (45). Zach Bogosian is on a fast track to stardom. Drafted third overall by the Atlanta Thrashers, Bogosian made the team out of training camp and saw action in 47 games in his first pro season. He scored nine goals and 19 points. His booming shot and presence at the point will be a factor for the Americans. Further highlighting the diversity of the American team, Bogosian is of Armenian heritage. Jack Johnson and Matt Niskanen round out the talented blueline. Six of Team USA’s defensemen are first round draft choices.
Big banger Dustin Brown returns. His goal production this season fell off to 24 goals after a career-high of 33 in 2007-08. New York Islander forward Kyle Okposo will be a player to watch. Okposo is ultra-talented and can score. He scored 18 goals in 65 games in his first full season with the Islanders. Okposo has the tools to be a power forward who can score 30+ goals a season. Fresh off a national championship with Boston University at the NCAA Frozen Four, Colin Wilson joins the Americans. Drafted seventh overall by the Nashville Predators, Wilson is a big forward (188 cm, 98 kg) who has a presence on the ice. With excellent hands and vision, Wilson can score or set up teammates. This will be an important testing ground for the Greenwich, Connecticut native. Wilson follows in big footsteps as both his grandfather and father both played in the NHL. There is nice depth at the forward positions. Drew Stafford, Patrick O’Sullivan, Lee Stempniak, and Jason Blake will be tapped to provide scoring. Ron Wilson knows Blake well having coached him this season with the Maple Leafs. Nick Foligno scored 17 goals in his first full season with the Ottawa Senators. Peter Harrold, Ryan Shannon and Colin Stuart fill out the roster.
After five seasons with the San Jose Sharks that saw two first place and two second place finishes in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference, Ron Wilson was let go by the team largely owing to three consecutive second round playoff exits. Last June, Wilson was named head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team that drafted him in 1975. In his first season, Toronto finished 34-35 and 13 overtime losses. Wilson was recently named head coach of not only the upcoming World Championship entry but also the 2010 Olympics, ending speculation among the top three that include Wilson, Peter Laviolette, and John Tortorella. Wilson has already indicated that he wants to go with a younger lineup for both events and that is already evident with the number of players under the age of 25 on this roster. Scott Gordon, head coach of the New York Islanders, and Joe Sacco will assist Wilson behind the bench. Brian Burke is the general manager, the same role he holds with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Team USA should be favorites to finish at least second in Group C in Berne. Since winning the bronze medal in 2004, Team USA has finished 6th, 7th, 5th, and 6th, respectively. A good showing in Switzerland would provide some momentum for Ron Wilson and the USA Hockey program heading into the 2010 Olympics. Still, with such a young team there will be growing pains along the way.