Rockin’ The Red, White And Blue

U.S. Men’s National Team Looking To Forge Its Identity In Hopes Of Ending Gold Drought

Patrick Kane was the first American-born player to commit to the 2019 IIHF Men’s World Championship for Team USA, following a career-year with the Chicago Blackhawks that saw the 30-year-old produce 110 points. 

 

The Buffalo, N.Y., native captained the U.S. last year at Worlds, compiling eight goals and twelve assists to come away as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Kane pledged that whenever he had the chance to, he was going to represent the U.S. internationally and held up his end of the bargain, opting to captain the U.S. over the next few weeks in Slovakia.

 

A cast of talented players followed his lead, forming a 23-man roster with an additional two spaces still available to be filled. The U.S. Men’s National Team, assembled by general manager Chris Drury and John Vanbiesbrouck, USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations, features some of the top players in the game who have all come together with one thing on their mind – winning the first gold medal for the U.S. in a Men’s World Championship since 1933.

 

“Anytime you can represent your country it’s a huge honor,” said two-time Olympian Ryan Suter. “I enjoy representing our country. My family is going to be able to come over, so it’ll be fun for them to experience this.”

 

Suter, who eclipsed 1,000-career NHL games this season, is one of 12 first-round draft picks on the team, along with Jack Hughes, the projected first overall selection of the 2019 NHL Draft. Speed and skill are at a premium with a forward group that boasts Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin and Clayton Keller.

 

Nine players return from last year’s bronze-winning squad, as the U.S. is currently amidst their best medal stretch since the 1950s, with three bronze medals (2013, 2015, 2018) in the past six years.

 Larkin, wearing an "A" for the third straight year, has consistently shown up for the U.S. in international play and has been a constant contributor. Larkin has a combined 19 points over the past two Men's World Championships.Larkin, wearing an "A" for the third straight year, has consistently shown up for the U.S. in international play and has been a constant contributor. Larkin has a combined 19 points over the past two Men's World Championships.

To break the gold-medal drought will require the collection of skilled players to forge a team identity, quickly, becoming comfortable in their roles and enabling the U.S. to play to its strengths. 

 

“We’ve got to find our identity,” said alternate captain Dylan Larkin. “The quicker we do that and build chemistry between lines and power play units and penalty kill units and between our forwards and defenseman, we’re going to get better. It’s going to make our team stronger. It’s still early but you have to like the process we showed tonight.”

 

Still, it’s difficult to craft a team’s cohesiveness with the short time frame available to practice together, with many players coming straight out of their NHL season. The U.S. arrived in Europe on May 5, and play their opening contest against Slovakia tomorrow at 2:15 p.m., ET on the NHL Network.

 

“Everyone on the team is a good player,” said Suter, who was also tabbed to serve as an alternate captain. “They’re all here for a reason. I think the biggest thing for us is basically just playing when it comes down to it. You’ve got to get feeling comfortable with the way you’re playing and then everything else takes care of itself. The system takes over and you get it going the way it needs to be to win games.”

 

Jeff Blashill, who returns for his third straight year as head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, got the first look at his team in action on Tuesday in the exhibition against Germany. 

 

The U.S. won 5-2 on goals scored by Noah Hanifin, Clayton Keller, Alex DeBrincat, James van Riemsdyk and an empty-net goal from Johnny Gaudreau.

 

The win was a glimpse at the early stages of a team trying to gel together without much practice time, only getting on the ice three times together prior to the exhibition game.

 

“I think we were a little sloppy,” Suter said. “Learning new systems and new faces, guys you haven’t really played with, it was a little sloppy. But I think as the game went on, we got a little more familiar with each other and more comfortable with the different stuff that was going on.”

 Ryan Suter, shown here defending Leon Draisaitl, jumped at the chance to represent the U.S. and try for a gold medal. The steady defenseman played all 82 games for the Minnesota Wild this season.Ryan Suter, shown here defending Leon Draisaitl, jumped at the chance to represent the U.S. and try for a gold medal. The steady defenseman played all 82 games for the Minnesota Wild this season.

After traveling to Kosice, Slovakia, the site of Pool A, the U.S. held their last of four practices before meeting Slovakia to open group play. The rest of their preliminary slate includes France, Finland, Great Britain, Denmark, Germany and Canada. It’s a stretch of seven games in 12 nights, so being able to play a balanced lineup and monitor minutes will be key in keeping players fresh.

 

They’ll need to do that if they are going to bring home the first gold medal at a Men’s World Championship in 85 years. It’s a quest that begins tomorrow with a tough test in the opening matchup against the host team in what promises to be a raucous environment.

 

“That’s why we’re here,” Suter said. “It would be pretty special but that doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to take time to build what we want. Obviously, the focus is on playing, getting the systems down and getting everything going so you can win a gold medal.” 

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