Around the Rink
A Look at USA Hockey in 2017
Following not only one but two, two-goal comebacks, another Troy Terry clutch shootout goal and Tyler Parsons slamming the door shut on Canada in the United States' 5-4 win in the world junior hockey championship on Jan. 6, one can only imagine that the brass controlling USA Hockey felt a sense of relief as to where the game is going in this country, especially after how many questions were raised because of the U.S. World Cup of Hockey performance back in September.
The win marked the fourth time the U.S. won the gold medal at the tournament and the third since 2010.
With the game in the U.S. riding high after the win over Canada, MYHockey Rankings wanted to briefly touch on some major topics regarding USA Hockey for the year ahead, with the aid of regional manager for USA Hockey's American Development Model, Joe Bonnett.
A Gold Standard
It wasn't too shabby of a year for the young guns in the U.S., with a world junior gold medal win in Montreal, Quebec, first place at the Five Nations Tournament and a runner-up finish at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
“We acknowledge 1980, but what we notice is a new wave of USA Hockey,” Bonnett said. “There's a new wave of young players that are really taking the game to the next level and giving our youth coaches something to strive for.”
Bonnett, who spent 14 seasons as an assistant men's hockey coach at Colorado College, along with others in charge of the ADM, recognize how much the game has changed, and they make the necessary changes accordingly.
“Seeing the brand of hockey that these kids are playing, it's a different game,” Bonnett said. “It's a high tempo game, the kids are thinking more and their skill set is advanced. That really has us excited and it's what we're calling the next wave of USA hockey.”
That next wave has included players like Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the latter of the two currently leading the Maple Leafs in goals and points while generating a Calder Memorial Trophy resume as the National Hockey League's rookie of the year.
With a record 12 Americans selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft and fifty-five overall, USA Hockey is exactly where it wants to be from a development standpoint.
“We are pleased for the future,” Bonnett said. “The ADM managers feel that the future of hockey in our country is extremely bright.”
But What About the Pros?
Of course, with the success of hockey in the U.S. at the youth and junior levels, there comes the expectation of an Olympic gold medal or a first place finish at the World Cup.
Lately, that hasn't been the case to say the least, as 1980 remains as the last U.S. hockey gold medal at the Olympic games and the most recent World Cup of Hockey speaks for itself.
Bonnett maintains that the success lately outside of the parent team will change things in time. “I think what we're really happy about is the trends,” Bonnett said. “The trend where (the U.S.) being on the podium and (the U.S.) in the mix and (the U.S.) medaling has kind of become normal.”
Whether or not there will be an NHL presence in the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, is yet to be determined.
What Happens In Vegas...
With NHL expansion set to take full swing beginning next season in Las Vegas, Nevada, there is a certain hope that the game of hockey will grow at the youth level, much like it did in Columbus, Ohio, where the Blue Jackets' presence led to a significant growth of the game at all levels, culminating in Winnipeg Jets 2015 draft pick Jack Roslovic, the first ever Columbus-born player to be taken in the first round.
The NHL and USA Hockey have a partnership directly supporting the ADM and programs around the country such as the L.A. Jr. Kings, Anaheim Jr. Ducks, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, etc., and Las Vegas is expected to receive the same amount of attention.
“Through the NHL partnership through the ADM, we plan on being down there and helping any way that we can.” Bonnett said.
Only time will tell what is in store for youth hockey and the future of the game in the Las Vegas area.
USA Hockey in 2017
For Bonnett, there aren't specific resolutions for the new year as much as a mentality to stay the course and improve on it for 2017.
He sees three things that should receive specific attention: continued improvement of the game, putting kids in a position to create a better hockey IQ and commitment to an off-ice program.
With the improvement aspect, the foundation has been set with the recent success of USA Hockey. “I think the structure and the buy in is there,” Bonnett said. “Now we need to take it to the next level.” Through the ADM, improvement on technical skills such as skating, puck handling, passing and shooting are the main focus.
Creating a smarter hockey player is always a challenge, as some players simply develop a higher hockey IQ than others, but proper coaching and specific drills in practice could mean all the difference.
“As kids are playing in practice, they're getting 10 to 20 times more decisions within a practice of pattern recognition, of having the puck on their stick and a forecheck coming at them and then they have to make decision to pass it to either (player) a, b or c.” Bonnett said.
Off the ice, hockey does not always need to be a priority. The more sports a player can play and further development of athleticism can be a big factor in growth. Creating athletes first and hockey players second is not only recommended, but encouraged. “You don't need fancy gyms, you don't need a high paid off-ice coach, you just need consistent programming twice a week.” Bonnett said.
Overall, the state of hockey in the U.S. seems to have a bright future. “If we can accomplish that through our coaching education, through our ADM information, we'll take another huge step within our hockey culture.” Bonnett said.