Team USA headed down correct path: Winning worlds must be important
23.05.2016. Allen, Kevin; firstname.lastname@example.org USA TODAY Sports
When U.S. captain Matt Hendricks met with teammates after a
humbling 7-2 loss to the Russians in the bronze medal game of hockey's
world championships Sunday, he offered them a surprising assessment.
"What I said to guys in the room was that our resiliency and work ethic
was the best, bar none, of any team I've been on," the Edmonton Oilers
forward told USA TODAY Sports via cellphone from Moscow. "From our
top-minute guys to our bottom-minute guys, the work ethic and belief
that we had the opportunity to win this tournament was very, very high.
There was never any doubts. We were a close team. I was very proud of
everyone on the team."
He was being completely honest. The fourth-place finish was noteworthy,
probably better than what was expected, given the Americans had the
youngest team in the tournament and the youngest team they had sent to
the tournament in recent years.
America's most productive forwards were Auston Matthews, 18, and Dylan
Larkin, 19, and they were competing against a Russian team that boasted
stars including Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Artemi Panarin and Evgeny
"Early in the tournament, (the team's inexperience) was definitely the
elephant in the room," Hendricks said. "As the tournament progressed,
we cleaned up a lot of those areas. But at the end of the day, it did
This U.S. team played two strong games against the Czech Republic and
Canada in the medal round and then couldn't raise its level enough
"We didn't have enough today for our team to play the way we needed to
play to have success," U.S. coach John Hynes (New Jersey Devils) said.
The truth is the Americans needed more NHL veterans, and that speaks to
the continuing struggle USA Hockey has with players declining
invitations to play in the world championships.
European teams have a better record of recruiting top players. Ovechkin
has played 11 times. Jaromir Jagr has been a regular for the Czech
Republic. European players view the world championships with reverence
because much of their country's hockey history centers on the
At times, Canada has had trouble coaxing players to join, but stars
have shown up in recent years. In 2015, Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux,
Jason Spezza, Jordan Eberle and Brent Burns helped Canada win gold.
This year, Corey Perry, Taylor Hall, Brad Marchand and Connor McDavid
played. Canada's success in this tournament seems to have raised
awareness and made playing in the world championships more desirable.
The USA hasn't won the senior world championships tournament since
1933. The Americans have been more competitive in recent years, but
that's because they have had passionate players perform at their best.
The Americans would be more competitive if they had more veterans
accepting invitations to play. With the way the youngsters played in
Moscow, if the USA would have had one veteran defenseman, a scorer and
one of its accomplished goalies, it could have competed for a gold
Some players have legitimate reasons for not playing, especially those
with expiring contracts or injuries. But too many decline because the
world championships isn't as important to them as the Olympics or the
Maybe it would help if USA Hockey asked members of American's greatest
generation to recruit players. Chris Chelios, Bill Guerin, Mike Modano
and Brian Leetch, among others, all had overwhelming pride in wearing a
U.S. jersey. Maybe the best chance USA Hockey has of receiving a higher
participation rate from veterans will come from the pride the next
generation of Americans seems to have.
When Crosby played for the gold medal-winning Canadian team, the rumor
was the players orchestrated the stacked roster. It was an
I-will-play-if-you-play chain reaction.
It's not hard to envision players such as Larkin or Matthews involved
in something similar someday. Depending on how their NHL teams are
doing in the playoffs, it's not unthinkable that Larkin would dial Jack
Eichel or Matthews, and say, "Why don't we head over to Europe and see
if we can win a world championship? You call Noah Hanifin and I will
call Zach Werenski, and let's get this done."
It's a problem that passionate U.S. players can fix by themselves. It's
a matter of convincing other Americans that being a world champion is a
title worth having.