When Brian Burke is asked to talk about the young, talented players that have come through the USA Hockey system, the U.S. Olympic team general manager overflows with superlatives, dishing on the remarkable job the Americans have done in development.
You can bet the name Patrick Kane
is on the tip of Burke's tongue as he speaks.
Like Mike Modano in past years, Kane may soon, if he hasn't already, turn into the face of USA Hockey. Unless something shocking develops over the next 10 months, he is a lock to play for Team USA at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
"Hopefully I can make the team," Kane told NHL.com. "From watching the summer Olympics you get the itch. Hopefully we can bring home a medal; hopefully a gold."
See that, he's already thinking with lofty goals in mind, which is exactly the way Burke and newly named Team USA coach Ron Wilson are thinking.
The Americans won't be the favorites in Vancouver. Everyone predicts the gold will run through Canada, and if it's not the hosts it will be Russia or Sweden. That's not deterring the American way of thinking.
"I think the gold medal runs right through Canada," Wilson said. "They are going to be the favorites, but we have never been intimidated playing in Canada with Team USA."
Kane is the poster boy for what USA Hockey hopes to see more of in generations to come.
A Buffalo native, he grew up attending Sabres games with his dad. When he was 14, Kane relocated to Michigan to play for the Honeybaked AAA hockey club in Detroit and live with former NHLer Pat Verbeek.
"My goal was to get seen to play for the National Program," Kane said.
Kane, who was also drafted by the London Knights in the fifth round of the 2004 Ontario Hockey League draft, went to Germany that year to play for the U.S. and the Under-17 Select team at the Five Nations Tournament. He led the team with seven points in four games and was chosen to for the United States National Team Development Program. He went to Ann Arbor, Mich. instead of London, Ont.
"They work you out like crazy," Kane said of the USNTDP. "They were a great two years."
Kane amassed the most assists (88) and second-most goals (84) and points (172) in program history. He also won gold with the U.S. at the 2006 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, scoring a team-high seven goals and leading the tournament with 12 points.
"They cover everything from weight training to nutrition to on-the-ice little things," Kane said of the USNTDP. "I'd recommend the program to anyone. It was really good to me. I think it prepares you for a lot. I know up here in the NHL the practices are shorter and the workouts aren't as hard as they are there. It helps you develop at such a young age.
"You see a lot of good players coming out of there from Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Phil Kessel, myself and the list goes on to Rick DiPietro and so many other players," he added. "There are so many that have come out of there that have made the next step and are big players on their NHL teams."
When his two years in U.S. program had expired, Kane chose to play one season in London instead of going the NCAA route. He already knew he could play in the NHL as a youngster and going to college would have stunted that growth.
"I think that's one of the things that really helped me up my draft status," Kane said, "from a second or third rounder and into a top, first round pick."
Kane turned into exactly that when the Chicago Blackhawks, selecting first in the draft for the first time in franchise history, made Kane the No. 1 overall pick.
A year later, he stood on a different podium, this time in Toronto, and accepted the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year.
"You're a first overall pick and you look at the No. 1 picks lately, guys like (Alex) Ovechkin and (Sidney) Crosby, players like that that have taken that torch and played right away. There was pressure for me to play right away, and I won Rookie of the Year."
Could the Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold be next?
"There are a lot of championships out there that hopefully we can win," Kane said.Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer