Olympic Recap

olympic_torino2006.gifUSA Hockey needs overhaul

I guess I’m looking for the next Mike Modano or Pat LaFontaine or Brian Leetch or Chris Chelios. Where are those kind of special elite young American players?
In recent years, the Canadians have produced dynamic youngsters like Sidney Crosby (18), Rick Nash (21), Eric Staal (21) and Jason Spezza (22).
The Russian system has churned out monster talents like Ilya Kovalchuk (23), Alexander Ovechkin (20) and Evgeny Malkin (20).
Even a much smaller country like Slovakia has produced highly skilled young players such as Marian Gaborik (24) and Marek Svatos (24).
So, why are there no young American superstars? Well, maybe, it’s just the nature of things. Sometimes, these things run in cycles.
But, maybe a more reasonable explanation is this: USA Hockey doesn’t have its act together. Modano hinted as much after the American’s were eliminated by Finland 4-3 Wednesday.
Currently, USA Hockey spends a good deal of money on its National Development Program, which operates out of Ann Arbor, Mich. It’s a hothouse program that serves only tiny percentage of American youngsters. Only a select few are chosen for the program. Those selected then move to Ann Arbor, where they attend high school and skate for the National Development teams.
In operation since the late 1990s, the program has produced several good hockey players. Of course, those players — like DiPietro or young Predators defenseman Ryan Suter — might have developed just fine in their own local environments. Almost 10 years into the program, however, it has yet to produce anyone even close to Crosby or Ovechkin.
With that in mind, perhaps the powers that be at USA Hockey might have to re-think the program. But, if they are determined to keep pumping money into it, they should make the coaching positions more than just stepping-stone jobs. Current University of Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves did an excellent job during his short tenure with the program. It was Eaves who led the U.S. National Junior team to its only World Junior title in 2004. Unfortunately, USA Hockey couldn’t (or wouldn’t) keep Eaves from leaving for Madison.

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