ZURICH-KLOTEN Ė Over the years much has been made at World Championship tournaments about why top available American talent would not represent their country.
Seemingly as the only American, save for the USA Hockey delegation, I felt obligated to provide an answer whenever the question was posed.
But I donít have an answer except to say that all you can do is invite a player to be a part of the team, and USA Hockey has on those many occasions.
But really, I donít think that is going to be an issue moving forward, owing to developmental and generational changes.
Developmentally, the USA Hockey program has nurtured so many talented young players through international competitions, thanks to the National Team Development Program (NTDP).
The program does more than just develop hockey players but it instills in each player national pride. At an early age at U18 and U20 tournaments players become familiar with the larger ice, teammates, and flow of the game.
Watch when the anthem is played and you can notice any kid who went through the NTDP program, they are usually the ones singing along to the Star Spangled Banner and focused squarely on the American flag. They earn a healthy respect for what it means to represent their country.
These young players are hungry to compete and ready to do so when their phone rings and it is USA Hockey on the other end.
Since 2006, they have relied on a younger lineup, allowing them the chance to build experience at the senior level of the World Championships. Of course such an approach will have growing pains. In that period of time, Team USA has finished 7th, 5th, and 6th respectively. In looking at this as a long-term investment, the more these athletes get to play- and play together- it will benefit USAís international hockey prospects.
Core players on World Championship rosters since 2006 reveals quality experience being logged at the senior international level. Letís look at the game totals of current members on the 2009 entry (player age in brackets):
Dustin Brown (24): 16 games
Ryan Suter (24): 14 games
Keith Ballard (26): 12 games
Patrick OíSullivan (24): 10 games
Jack Johnson (22): 7 games
These totals don't include games that have been, or will be played, in Bern.
And then there is Phil Kessel, the Boston Bruins star forward, who has represented Team USA from 2006-2008. Thatís 21 World Championship games where he has contributed 19 points.
Kessel is currently leading the Bruins in the Eastern Conference semi-finals of the NHL playoffs. Not only does he have the chance to become a significant national team contributor at future World Championships, if available, but at the Winter Olympics as well.
So what does this mean? Well, as these players, all of whom are still very young, hit their prime, they will be the catalysts in what promises to be a golden age of American competition in international hockey tournaments.
Donít believe me?
Very few people were laughing at the 1996 World Cup when Team USA showed their worth. Mike Modano, Jeremy Roenick, and Tony Amonte- each 26 years old at the time- were all in their prime years. And if effective development and scouting are to be trusted, so many of the Team USA players who have or will crack NHL lineups represent the next wave.
And I would not be surprised that as these guys develop there is gold in their World Championship future.