A Call To Arms

Patrick Kane’s Rallying Cry Bolsters Hopes For The Red, White And Blue On World Stage

When Patrick Kane announced that he would play for the United States in the 2018 IIHF Men's World Championship it was welcome news for an organization still reeling from the loss of its driving force, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations Jim Johannson, who passed away several months earlier. 

But it was what the Chicago Blackhawks superstar said during the tournament that resonated with every fan of the red, white and blue and could usher in a new era of participation among some of the game's brightest American stars.

"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," Kane told John Sanful of IIHF.com. 

"You've got to get some of these American players treating [the World Championships] like the European players do. You get asked and you come right away."

That call to arms was music to the ears of the U.S. general managers given the task of fielding a competitive team for the biggest international tournament traditionally unknown on home soil. Over the years some of America's biggest stars politely declined the invitation to extend their season after what had already been a long and grueling
NHL campaign. 

At the other end of the spectrum, other countries biggest stars would wrap up play with their NHL teams one day and be on a plane the next to bolster their national teams' chances of winning.

That began to change in recent years as Johannson started creating a culture among a new generation of players to treat the World Championships with the same sense of duty as their European counterparts.

At the core is a group of players who already had a history of wearing the USA crest at international tournaments such as the Under-18 World Championships and World Juniors.

Johannson took it a step further, expanding the talent pool by giving younger players a chance to showcase their skills against the best in the world. He did that partly out of necessity and partly to reward players for their loyalty to the USA crest.

"I always felt like we owed him when he would ask us to come to the World Championship," said Kane, who also played in the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games. "I feel bad in some way because he is not here [in 2018]. I should have come the last couple years."

A decade had passed in between Kane's appearances at the World Championships. Over the course of that time he won three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks and had cemented his place as one of the greats in the game. What the Buffalo, N.Y., native did last year in Denmark only added to that. 

Named captain of the U.S. squad, Kane took his game to an even higher level, leading the tournament in scoring while setting an American record with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) to lead the U.S to a bronze medal. He also became the first American player named MVP of the tournament. 

"He wants to make a difference in every game. He wants to win. It's not about his own personal accolades, as much as it is about our team winning," said  U.S. head coach Jeff Blashill, who is returning to that post again this year.

"Patrick has shown unreal leadership ability for us. That's what I've been most impressed with. He's obviously one of the most talented players in the world, but the leadership and his approach from a team perspective has been the biggest thing
I've seen."

And that leadership rubs off on the next generation of bright American stars, including Dylan Larkin, Clayton Keller and Jack Eichel, who are among the initial list of players named to this year's team that will compete in Kosice and Bratislava, Slovakia, this May. All of the U.S. games will air live on the NHL Network.

Kane and James vanRiemsdyk, who went 1 and 2 in the 2007 NHL Draft, are also on the team.

"Playing hockey into May is what it is all about," said Larkin, who is part of the rebuilding process in Detroit. "I just think I am young, I have a lot of energy, got a lot of passion. I want to keep playing."

That loyalty is beginning to pay off on the podium. The U.S. has won three medals in the last six  years, the best stretch since the 1950s,  and is knocking on the door to greater success in the not-too-distant future. 

"Players want to play in pressure packed situations," said John Vanbiesbrouck, a 20-year NHL veteran who has stepped in to fill the void left by Johannson's passing. "This is another offer to play in a playoff atmosphere for your country, and the way that things are going with no World Cup and no Olympics, for most of these players it may be the only opportunity to wear the red, white and blue."

The U.S. brain trust is hoping that Kane's commitment to USA Hockey will motivate others to join the U.S. National Team. 

"It's good to hear that approach from Patrick," Vanbiesbrouck said. "I think it sends a message, a real clear one, to all the players who have that opportunity to take advantage of it because you never know when it's going to be your last one."

 

Issue: 
2019-04

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