The Long Goodbye…

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As a noted procrastinator who utilizes the stress and anxiety of a tight deadline to focus and tighten his writing, and as someone who so often said on this very website that this piece would come at this time only to have it come later or not at all, I don’t think I’ve put off anything as long as this post. It’s the dread of finality, really.

Effective today, I will be going on an extended, possibly permanent hiatus from United States of Hockey after three-plus years of covering the things I am most passionate about in this great game.

I am pleased to say it is with good reason that I step away. On July 1, I assumed a full-time role as an NHL writer for CBSSports.com. I’ll be taking over the Eye on Hockey blog, which I have been contributing to on a part-time basis since October of 2012. It is a terrific opportunity that I am so thankful to have been offered and I can’t wait to continue building an audience for hockey under the CBS Sports masthead.

This blog started as a way for me to fill some voids at first. There was a number of things I felt were under-covered and had hoped that maybe I could shed some light on certain areas of hockey that didn’t get as much notice.  Continue reading

Posted in 2014 Olympics, All-America Teams, American Prospects, Blog News, Grow the Game, High School Hockey, Hockey Weekend Across America, IIHF Men's World Championship, Junior Hockey, Minor League Hockey, NCAA, NHL, NHL Draft, NTDP, Paralympics, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, USHL, Whimsy, Women's Hockey, World Junior Championship, World U17 Hockey Challenge, World U18 Championship, Youth Hockey | 17 Comments

U.S. Hockey Participation Numbers for 2013-14

There were more people playing hockey in the United States than ever before during the 2013-14 season according to USA Hockey. The national governing body’s membership report released in early June indicates that 519,417 people registered as players last season, which bested the previous year’s total by more than 9,000 and the previous record set in 2011-12 by 7,000. It should go without saying that this is a spectacular sign for the direction of hockey in the United States.

USAHockeyArcUSA Hockey enjoyed a 1.79 percent bump in membership from 2012-13, which helped offset a minimal decline in playing membership that season. Looking at the 10-year growth, USA Hockey has enjoyed a 16.6 percent bump from 2004-05.

The organization also reached record highs in total membership, which includes coaches and on-ice officials. USA Hockey now includes 598,841 Americans directly involved with hockey as players, coaches or officials, with an estimated 1 million-plus involved as volunteers, team managers and parents. That’s pretty good news for the game.

Coming up after the jump, a deeper dive into the 2013-14 numbers as well as a state-by-state breakdown of growth and where each state ranked in total membership last season.

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Posted in Grow the Game, High School Hockey, Junior Hockey, Minor League Hockey, NCAA, NHL, USA Hockey, Youth Hockey | 12 Comments

USA Hockey Board Approves Stronger Rules to Curtail Fighting in Junior Hockey

USA Hockey’s Annual Congress was held in Colorado Springs, Colo., last week. The organization revealed that its playing membership was at an all-time high of 519,417, which is more than 8,000 players better than the previous high set in 2011-12 (more on the growth in a future post). The Congress also is an important week for changes to rules and there was one of great significance on the table.

USAHockeyArcUSA Hockey’s board of directors, in conjunction with the council that oversees junior hockey in the country, reviewed new rules to curtail fighting at that level. The board approved stronger rules as they pertain to fighting at the Tier I (USHL) and Tier II (NAHL) over the weekend.

Starting in 2014-15, any fighting major in Tier I or Tier II junior hockey will be accompanied by a 10-minute misconduct — that is over and above the major, meaning a player would sit for a total of 15 minutes. There are expected to be a few more details to this that were not immediately released by USA Hockey, but this rule alone is an important first step toward curtailing fighting and I believe one day they will take it a step further with automatic game misconducts, but this is a good middle ground for now.

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Posted in Junior Hockey, NCAA, USA Hockey | 3 Comments

2014 IIHF Men’s World Championship: Team USA Progress Report Heading into Medal Round

Coming into the tournament, the U.S. Men’s National Team was short on name recognition (outside of the diehards out there) and long on youth. With the newer format that only the top four teams advance to the quarterfinal at the 2014 IIHF Men’s World Championship, getting in was bound to be difficult.

The youthful roster, made it through a difficult preliminary-round field with a 4-1-0-2 record, good for second in Group B and setting up a date with the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Coming into the tournament, I thought some variation of a 4-3 record was probably going to be the best-case scenario. They did one better with four regulation wins and one in overtime despite a relatively tough schedule to start the tournament.

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Posted in IIHF Men's World Championship, NHL, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey | 2 Comments

VIDEO: Johnny Gaudreau, Drew Shore score ridiculous goals for Team USA at World Championship

The U.S. Men’s National Team is through to the quarterfinals at the 2014 IIHF Men’s World Championship after finishing the preliminary round with a better-than-expected 4-1-0-2 record. The U.S. closed out preliminary-round play Tuesday with a 5-4 win over Germany. They now await the result of Russia-Belarus to finalize the seeding. Assuming Russia beats Belarus in any fashion, Team USA is locked into second in Group B.

Logo_USA_hockeyThat win today over Germany was a close shave for the U.S., but it featured some of the very best goals I’ve ever seen scored at this tournament and some of the best I’ve ever seen period.

Watch both after the jump, plus a bonus assist that will make your head spin.

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Posted in IIHF Men's World Championship, NHL, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey | 1 Comment

The Evolution of Goaltender John Gibson

On a chilly November evening in front of 200 or 300 spectators at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, John Gibson flipped a switch. The Pittsburgh native had been at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program for less than three months, playing as one of two goalies on the U.S. National Under-17 Team and to that point and he was struggling.

The big goaltender hadn’t really made the adjustment from AAA to Junior, to the point where he wasn’t really seeing a lot of USHL action. He was raw and athletic, but he hadn’t quite figured out how to use his size and everything from positioning to awareness was messy.

His team was struggling, too. The U.S. National U17 Team was playing in the USHL for the first time and they couldn’t buy a win. By that November night in Ann Arbor, the U17s had not won a game in USHL competition yet. Gibson had barely played at the start of the season while battling some early-season injury trouble and the other goalie, current Minnesota Duluth netminder Matt McNeely, showing a little more polish.

Then Gibson stepped between the pipes for just his second USHL start on Nov. 20, 2009 against the Tri-City Storm, which featured Jaden Schwartz, the eventual scoring champion in the league that year and a first-round selection of the St. Louis Blues.

I happened to be the PR guy in Ann Arbor at the time and helped out with color commentary on the broadcast that night, which is why I probably remember a regular-season USHL game as vividly as this one.

It seemed as though Tri-City was going to roll into town and roll over the U17s and in a way, they did. But they didn’t count on the 16-year-old goalie to have one of the greatest goaltending performances in league history.

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Posted in American Prospects, IIHF Men's World Championship, Junior Hockey, NHL, NTDP, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World Junior Championship, World U18 Championship | 10 Comments

2014 IIHF Men’s World Championship: Team USA Roster at a Glance

The U.S. Men’s National Team will open its quest for a second consecutive medal at the 2014 IIHF Men’s World Championship in Minsk, Belarus Friday against the host nation. All preliminary-round games will air live on NBC Sports Network, starting with Friday’s opener at 1:45 p.m. ET.

2014_IIHF_World_ChampionshipThe U.S. took bronze last year, defeating Finland in a thrilling shootout to earn the country’s first medal at the event since 2004. Medals are hard to come by at the Worlds as the U.S. usually has a roster that is comprised of young players and few stars. With this being an Olympic year and no 2014 Olympians on Team USA’s roster, the team is even less experienced than normal.

Team USA has an average age of 24.3, with several players just a few years or less removed from college or junior. They’ll face a tough task at a tough tournament, but this youth could be a benefit for Team USA, as explained in detail in this full preview here.

Since there are so many fresh faces on this U.S. roster, I decided to compile a quick roster at a glance with a few facts on each player, particularly the young guys that may be unfamiliar to NHL fans.

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Posted in American Prospects, IIHF Men's World Championship, NCAA, NHL, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey | 2 Comments