The 2010 Winter Olympics saw a changing of the guard for the game of hockey in the United States. A team of young and passionate Americans bashed their way into the Gold Medal Game where they fell one goal short to Canada in the host city of Vancouver.
While it is a somewhat painful reminder of losing to Canada at their game, the 2010 team that won Silver serves as a blueprint—and a precedent—that fans of the game here in the USA will be looking for some 15 months from now when the 22nd Winter Olympics take place in Sochi, Russia.
Since 2010, many of those American-born players have gone on to win numerous accolades.
Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, Tim Thomas, and Patrick Kane are among the notable Americans to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup since the Olympic Games. Thomas won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2011 while his American counterpart Quick kept the Conn Smythe in American hands the following year.
More is to come from the young stars that proudly wear the Red, White and Blue. The 2014 Winter Olympics could be one of the deepest and most competitive Olympic hockey tournaments ever seen.
With that being said, here are ten young players who under the age of 25 that could make noise to land a spot on Team USA's roster in Sochi.
Please note that players who are age 25 like Kane, Phil Kessel and Bobby Ryan are guaranteed to be on the team in 2014 and thus will be left off the list.
Forwards will be highlighted first and then defenseman
No rookie got off to a more dominant start than Craig Smith did in 2011-12. His first 24 games with the Nashville Predators allowed the 23-year-old to pot seven goals and chip in 10 assists. After Dec. 1, Smith hit some growing pains and only managed to add 19 points (7 Goals and 12 Assists).
But that didn't deter Smith at all. He uses his frame (6'1", 197 lbs) to crash the net. Smith was a member of the USA World Junior Championship team in 2010-11 and again in 2011-12, and has represented the nation well in international competition, playing in 11 games according to NHL.com.
Smith also isn't afraid to crash the boards, and create plays along the boards and in the middle of the ice.
Playing for his country with NHL pros might help him learn more about the game, and give him a boost he needs to grow his game back in Nashville.
Born in Milwaukee, WI, but raised in Russia for most of his life, Alex Galchenyuk might be the next Great American superstar to play for the United States.
That is not a surprise given the fact that Galchenyuk has filled the void left by Nail Yakupov on the OHL's Sarnia Sting stat sheet: In 25 games, Alex has 41 points, 3 Power play Goals and a plus-6 rating according to his bio page. Galchenyuk has also stepped up as a vocal leader on the youthful Sting who are trying to find an identity in the jammed packed OHL West Division.
All while recovering from a devastating knee injury that cost him all but two games from his 2011-12 season.
These are the reasons why it was a no brainer for the Montreal Canadiens to select Galchenyuk third overall in June's NHL Draft. It's also a no brainer to see the amount of skill this young power forward possesses.
He put up 83 points in his rookie season with the Sting. He is on a torrid pace to eclipse that this year. Galchenyuk could make enough noise in his brief time that when the NHL resumes play, it might warrant a spot on the 2014 US Olympic Roster.
There are many cases to be made that this New York Ranger's top prospect should be on the Olympic roster.
His play in the 2012 NHL Playoffs proved vital in helping the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference Finals. He has won an NCAA Championship as a member of the Boston College Golden Eagles in 2009-10. And he added a gold medal to his long list of accomplishments in a stunning upset over Canada in the 2010 World Junior Championships.
Kreider has done it all and still has time to add more hardware at age 21. He is a shoo-in to make the Rangers out of Training Camp when hockey resumes play and could boast a top six role on a deep Rangers squad.
And while he wouldn't be relied on for scoring in any Olympic competition, having a youthful dash of speed, power and finesse wrapped into one might be the remedy for a role player on Team USA in 2014.
This past season saw the best statistical output from this 24-year-old native of New Canaan, CT.
Max Pax strung together a 65 point season (33 Goals, 32 Assists) after missing most of 2010-11 to injuries. Some thought that the injury he sustained from Zdeno Chara in 2011 might end his young NHL career.
Instead, he fought to get back on the ice by diligently hitting the weight room in the offseason. He also started to see more minutes from a Canadien team that was struggling to find any realm of consistency in 2011-12.
So, as Pacioretty begins to enter the prime of his career, he expects to carry a larger role of offensive production down the road.
Max has also gotten very valuable international experience. During the 2011-12 IIHF World Championships, he put up 12 points in 8 games (NHL.com). Pacioretty was a key force to advancing Team USA to the Playoff Rounds.
Pacioretty has played four professional seasons now. He has grown accustomed to playing with the NHL pros and may have played with some of the young stars in international competition. With a budding future as a solid top six contributor in Montreal, the future looks bright.
A spot on the USA Olympic roster would only confirm that.
American hockey fans proudly remember the outlet pass that Stepan made to John Carlson that led to a goal and a USA gold medal.
It was played all across the nation, and Americans were officially introduced to the Ranger prospect.
The gold medal capped off a World Junior Championship where Stepan had four goals and ten assists.
He has served the United States well in international competition and also in a different red, white and blue as a member of the New York Rangers.
There, he has been one of the Ranger's consistent players since his league debut in the 2010-11 season.
In his brief NHL career, Stepan has 96 points in 164 games. He has also made impact on the ice with a plus-22 rating (NHL.com). Being 22 years old, Stepan still has a lengthy career ahead of him in the NHL.
And in that lengthy career, we can expect Stepan to compete in the Olympics in 2014 or somewhere in the near future.
Nicknamed "Captain America," John Carlson is already hailed as an American hero.
He plays in the nation's capital as one of America's most promising young defenseman. He has donned the Red, White and Blue for his country and brought them back a gold medal. And most importantly, Carlson has given himself a viable chance to compete for a vacant spot in the defense for the 2014 Olympics.
Carlson is the kind of player who is fit to play for his country in the Olympics. He fills the void left by Brian Rafalski as a puck-moving distributor who is reliable in his own zone.
The plus-21 rating Carlson had in 2010-11 season, in addition to his 37 points, were strong indicators of his two-way play that the Americans could use on the back end (NHL.com).
Carlson could be a solid first defensive pairing with guys like Jack Johnson or Ryan Suter.
Shrouded among the potential defenseman for the 2014 Olympics, Kevin Shattenkirk found his way to St. Louis in an unlikely fashion.
Originally a draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche, Shattenkirk spent only 46 games with the Avs before a deadline deal involving former No.1 draft pick Erik Johnson sent him to Mile High. Shattenkirk was one of many pieces that came back over in the trade.
Since then, the Blues have been singing a new tune.
They have established a young core of players who took the team to the second round of the playoffs this past year. As well, the team has seen players like Alex Pietrangelo and Patrik Berglund develop into high-end talent and have solidified their goaltending situation.
Shattenkirk was a huge contributor to the team's remarkable 2011-12 campaign. In addition to having 43 points in 81 games, he also was a plus-20 and blocked 103 shots (ESPN).
His game has taken off from learning behind guys like Pietrangelo, a future Norris Trophy finalist, and stay-at-home specialist Barret Jackman.
Shattenkirk is on the right track to find himself in Russia for the 2014 Olympics.
This selection might be a little bit out of left field for some, but Justin Faulk is a true dark horse for the 2014 Olympic Games.
Yes, I know he's only played one professional season with decent statistics. But, the native of St. Paul, MN showed that in one season in Carolina that he could be the missing piece for the Hurricane's defensive woes.
In the 2011-12 season, Faulk played a total of 66 games and managed to score eight goals and assist on 14 more. He was getting 20 minutes a night, playing for a dismal Hurricanes squad.
But Faulk has found a way to win. He was part of the University of Minnesota-Duluth team that trumped Michigan in Overtime to win their first ever NCAA Division 1 Hockey Championship.
He also played for Team USA in the World Championships as a 20-year-old, putting up a point per game (eight games, eight points) (NHL.com).
Faulk also has room to develop still. There are better defenseman than him for 2014, but he could make a case to join Team USA in the 2018 Games.
Time will tell, though.
Cam Fowler is also a possible dark horse pick for Team USA in the 2014 Games.
After being drafted 12th overall by Anaheim in 2010, Fowler made the jump to professional hockey after one year of playing with the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.
Before that he has represented the United States well during international competition, including in the 2010 World Junior Championship team filled with a litany of young talent.
He only had two points during that seven-game stretch but was a critical plus-8. He has since played for the United States on two more occasions, including the 2012 World Championships.
Fowler is only 21 years old, and has already done well in his first two seasons with the Ducks, compiling 69 points in 158 total games. He was also among the leaders in ice time for the Ducks during the 2011-12 season (NHL.com).
It might be the case that he is too young for the 2014 games, but a spot on the 2018 team is more likely.
Note: Cam Fowler was born in Windsor, Ont. but grew up for most of his life in Michigan and holds dual citizenship to both Canada and the United States. He chooses to represent United States during any international competition.
Ryan McDonagh is truly a budding two-way defenseman in the NHL.
While he doesn't burn up the back of the net, he compensates for it with his grit and smart defensive playmaking that gave the Rangers one of the best defensive cores in all of hockey.
At only 23 years old, McDonagh was called up during the middle of the 2010-11 season. He played 40 games and had 16 points. What wasn't forgotten was his 56 hits, 69 blocked shots and a plus-16 rating that gave Rangers fans and staff optimism that McDonagh was ready for full-time NHL work.
Last season, Ryan ranked eighth in the league in blocked shots with 183. He also added 112 hits and even contributed 32 points on offense (ESPN).
There is still a lot for McDonagh to grow. But his impacts on defense and even being a responsible player when he is on the ice (plus-41 in two seasons) would only add another element to a very deep United States defensive group.