Brian Leetch was on the ground floor of the growth of USA Hockey during his development time. Now the Hockey Hall of Fame member sees the rarified air the organization has reached.
Leetch is in Buffalo to meet with players and coaches taking part in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN), and can't help but notice how much things have changed since he played on those early USA Hockey teams.
"I was there at the beginning of them identifying some of the top players and trying to give them competition," he said. "I remember playing as a 17-year-old against Canadians in Colorado; we played a three-game series, playing against Adam Graves. Then the World Junior teams, that tournament was so strong and our teams were weaker at that stage.
"When I look at it, I look at the grassroots programs USA Hockey has done, and the amount of participation that has come from so many different areas. Now with USA Hockey it's not just the Northeast, or Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts. To be able to see these kids get introduced to hockey from warm-weather states and non-traditional hockey areas, and then to be able to get identified and to get moved into stronger roles, that's where I think USA Hockey has come a long, long way. … It has to start at those grassroots and they've done a great job of balancing money on both sides of it, with the elite kids as well as exposing kids to all different avenues of getting into the game of hockey."