USA Programs Are Finding Their Place In the Hockey World

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USA Programs Are Finding Their Place In the Hockey World

Many countries seem to think the United States is a strange country when it comes to sports.

If it isn't football, baseball, or basketball, we don't care. If your team starts to really suck, then loyalty has a tendency to go down the drain.

So what happens when you mix USA hockey with a not-so-great amount of talent?

"Hockey programs exist in the USA? I thought those were only in Canada?"

So that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but after the USA got over the initial shock and amazement that was the 1980 Miracle on Ice, hockey went back to being an unpopular sport in a country that gave it little face time with only a few exceptions.

However, that is in the past. Now we truly have a reason to celebrate.

Hockey may never boast the amount of hype conjured by the mention of football, baseball, or basketball, but there is something special brewing in Team USA hockey and its development programs.

Within the past year, America has seen unbelievable accomplishments from the USA hockey teams in international tournaments and has taken her place in hockey history. These are all signs of the American-based, ever-growing development programs that feed our youth to become successful hockey players.

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The accomplishments include a gold medal sweep in every level of amateur hockey: World Junior A, U-17, IIHF U-18, and the U-20 World Juniors.

The 2009 World Junior A Challenge saw the USA defeat Canada West 2-1 with a late USA goal on Canadian soil in Prince Edward Island. This was the Americans' second consecutive win.

To kick off the new year, the USA travelled back to Canada for the U-17 Hockey Challenge in Ontario, where they beat Canada Ontario 2-1.

The next day, Team USA was set to play Team Canada for the U-20 World Junior Championship in Saskatchewan. After blowing a 5-3 lead with just minutes remaining in the game, USA's John Carlson scored the 11th goal of the game in overtime to stun the Canadian crowd and take away the championship that remained in Canada for five straight years.

That was easily one of the USA's proudest hockey moments of the season.

In April, the U-18 Team USA travelled to Belarus for the 2010 IIHF World Men's Under-18 Championship, where they defeated Sweden 3-1. Team USA boasted strong stats, going 6-1 in the tournament and outscoring their opponents 33-7.

These were all moments where the majority of America was focusing on football and basketball.

But in February, Team USA had a chance to show America what it was about on the grandest of stages, the Vancouver Olympics.

Americans who were unfamiliar with the teams heard from sports analysts that Team USA was considered a dark horse in the tournament, but unlikely to make it further than the bronze medal game.

Did Team USA ever prove them wrong.

They went undefeated in the round robin tournament, including a jaw-dropping 5-3 defeat of the favored Team Canada in the final round robin game.

When the gold medal game was set for USA to play Canada, essentially NHL All-Stars vs. NHL All-Stars, America could feel the possibility of victory. This couldn't have come at a better time when the country was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice.

Team Canada claimed the lead for 59 minutes of the game when Zach Parise tied the score 2-2.

For a moment, it felt possible for the Team USA to claim their third Olympic gold until Canada's poster boy Sidney Crosby devastated their hopes with the overtime winner.

Prior to the Olympics, Team Canada players spoke about the importance of winning gold on their turf and how anything less than gold would be considered unacceptable.

For Team USA, although the biting loss was anything but a consolation, it was still an incredible display of skill, chemistry, and determination that encompassed a team who fought for their spot in the championship round.

It was a moment all of America could be proud of, especially since expectations for Canada were so high while expectations for the USA were much lower.

Following the close of the NHL season, the USA boasted historic numbers in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. 59 Americans were drafted total, with 11 taken in the first round and 10 taken in the second.

On a grand scale, these numbers mean little, but to America, the country that was indifferent in all things hockey, these numbers are a huge representation of the successful developing programs within our borders.

As we speak, the skill in our youth continues to shine in the Junior Evaluation Camp, where Team USA shows promise in the future of its young stars.

Team USA was hardly ever discussed when referring to accomplished programs: those discussions were typically reserved for Canada, Russia, Sweden, and Finland.

Now, times are changing, and the USA is finally in the mix with the best out there. We can only hope that the passion for USA hockey that was so prominent in the Olympics can become a regular occurrence, not show up just once every four years.

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