It’s been a few days since the U.S. claimed bronze at the World Championship, so here’s a quick retrospective on that as well as a bunch of related thoughts on Team USA’s Olympic structure if/when the NHL goes to Sochi…
All-in-all, the 2013 IIHF Men’s World Championship can be considered a success for the U.S. Men’s National Team. A big quarterfinal win over heavily-favored Russia and earning the first medal since 2004 with bronze are the big standout moments. It’s quite rare for U.S. teams to medal, so Team USA’s performance carries some extra significance.
Trying to assign reasonable meaning to what the bronze means for USA Hockey is a touch more difficult. The World Championship isn’t a best-on-best tournament, but it’s still an important event on some level. It might not have North American fan interest, but it’s one of many measuring sticks to indicate the health of a country’s national team program.
For so long, the U.S. has not had the depth to compete with other countries, which has been hard to fathom considering the increasing Americans playing in the NHL. The World Championship has proven that the gap in the average talent across the globe is pretty even among the big hockey countries. Even so, the U.S. teams should still be able to compete annually for a medal, so getting bronze is a step in the right direction.
The medal is not a monumental moment for USA Hockey, but it is a step towards something better and brighter. The depth of the country’s talent is as important as continuing to cultivate elite-level players, for sustainability’s sake. As the game grows, the talent should continue to grow with it.
Tournaments like the World U18s, World Juniors and even the World Championships are measuring sticks of varying value. Having some level of success in each is a good sign.
The last few years suggest that the talent is starting to catch up – in terms of American players’ presence in the NHL and NHL Draft, success internationally and across-the-board improvement at the midget and junior levels – to USA Hockey’s monumental membership growth over the last decade.