“I felt like I should have come in years past,” said Kane. “From here on out for me it is something that if you are healthy and not in the playoffs, I think you have to take the opportunity to come. You’ve got to get some of these American players treating it like the European players. You get asked and you come right away.”
For years, Team USA had to deal with the rejection of many top players who were available once their NHL season was over. But that began to change over the past ten years with the new guard of American players. Among this group are players who were with the National Team Development Program and represented their country at U18 and U20 tournaments, and others who just understood that wearing the USA sweater when called to do so is important.
These players, including Dylan Larkin, Johnny Gaudreau, and Anders Lee, are also pivotal players and key contributors on their NHL teams.
Still only 21, Larkin has joined the team every year since 2015. Gaudreau had played in three of the last five, including consecutive years in 2017 and 2018. Lee has joined three of the last four, missing only 2016. The trio have combined for seven games and 12 points.
In fact, there are ten players who have represented Team USA on two or more occasions since 2008 and including this tournament. Over the past four years there has been a core of players who, if available, accept the invitation to play.
The iron man is Connor Murphy, who has played in every World Championship since 2014. In that time, he’s seen action in 40 games on the blue line and was named captain of Team USA at the 2017 tournament.
What’s happening is that a new generation of American hockey players treat the World Championship with the same reverence, sense of duty and opportunity as their Canadian and European counterparts. If this trend continues, Team USA will continue to make strides at the highest level of annual international competition with the real possibility of seriously challenging for a gold medal.
Kane’s renewed commitment to USA Hockey will motivate others to strongly consider joining the national team. His credibility as a three-time Stanley Cup champion and one of his country’s most successful and skilled players counts for a lot.
Wearing the C on his jersey is something Kane says he’s not done since he was “maybe 12 or 13.” He admits that being on this team in that role makes being a member of Team USA more special.
“I always felt like we owed him when he would ask us to come to the World Championship. I feel bad in some way because he is not here for this one. I should have come the last couple years.”
Johannson’s legacy at the World Championships is clear. He grew USA Hockey into a credible annual contender and has deepened the talent pool coming over. With three bronze medals since 2004 (and two in the last five years), America is knocking on the door to greater success in this tournament. Entering the playoffs, the mindset is not just to get by, but to win and move on to greater success.
If Team USA can get more of its best to answer the call, there is no reason why they can’t be more successful on the world stage. That begins again in earnest against the Czechs tomorrow at Jyske Bank Boxen.