Any and all medal hopes for Team USA at the World Championships were dashed when the squad lost to Sweden in quarterfinal play.
Still, it was an experience that Kings forward Dustin Brown
, a member of the U.S. Men's National Team, won't soon forget.
"It was a fun experience because you don't always get a chance to go to places like Latvia," said Brown after returning back to North America from Riga, Latvia, the site of the tourney. "The city was awesome and from the standpoint of the team, you get to know a lot of new guys who you normally wouldn't play with.
"You meet a lot of new people and it's just a really fun experience."
Brown and his U.S. teammates, which included Kings defenseman Joe Corvo
, might have come back home without a medal but Brown said that he does not hold any grudges against the rival countries.
"Well, obviously, you're going over there to win," Brown said. "The main priority is to come home with a medal. I was lucky enough to do it in 2004 with a Bronze, but it was disappointing to not come home with a medal this time. It's a tough tournament. There are 16 teams and it's pretty long. You play a lot of games so it's a disappointment. You always want to come home with a medal - whether it's Gold, Bronze, it doesn't make a difference.
"At the same time, the competition there was pretty good. We lost to Sweden in our knockout game, and they had a pretty good team in Canada filled with all NHL players so there were a few teams over there that were really good. Then you have the smaller countries that are just trying to battle against those types of teams that are filled with NHL stars. The competition varies from 'awesome teams' to 'pretty good teams.'"
Born and raised in Ithaca, NY, Brown finished as Team USA's top goal scorer (five) and point producer (seven) over seven games of preliminary, qualification and semifinal action at the prestigious 2006 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship.
Recognized by USA Hockey as one of the club's three top players in the tournament – in addition to Brown, the other two named standouts included defenseman Andrew Alberts (Boston Bruins) and forward Ryan Malone (Pittsburgh Penguins) -- Brown was one of three Kings who participated in the tournament which, after an exhibition contest in Slovenia on May 2, was split between Skonto Arena and Arena Riga beginning on May 5.
In addition to Corvo, Kings forward Michael Cammalleri
made the trip with Team Canada, which finished fourth.
"It was fun to play with Joe," Brown siad. "It's always fun when you get these opportunities to play for your country and end up being able to play with a teammate, that you've played with all year, it kind of helps you settle in because you know someone there. It's a lot easier to go over there and play in a tournament like that when you have a teammate that.
"Playing against Cammalleri was fun too, but (it's) too bad we lost because now I'm going to have to hear about it. It's always fun to play against your teammates too like that and it's really only in tournaments like this that you get to play against them. We had a few laughs about it after. It was a pretty fun experience."
As for Team USA, the club concluded play with a 5-3-0 record, that includes the exhibition contest, and finished third in Group E. They beat Slovenia, Norway, Denmark, host Latvia, and the defending world champion Czech Republic, while losing to Cammalleri's Canada team, Finland and Sweden.
In the Czech Republic game, Brown scored the game's final goal, blasting one home from the left circle.
The 6-0 loss to Sweden that knocked out the Americans was no doubt disappointing. On the bright side, the U.S. has advanced to the quarterfinal round in all but two years since the 16-team format of the World Championship was adopted in 1998.
"For whatever reason, we came out a little bit flat and that, combined with the strong play of Sweden, led to the end result," said U.S. Head Coach Mike Eaves after the final loss.
One of the highlights of the team's trip was the game against Latvia. In front of a raucous crowd of 9,083, in what Coach Eaves called "one of the most difficult environments I've ever been involved in," Brown scored a key power play goal. Against Norway, Brown recorded a hat trick.
Meanwhile Brown, Alberts and Malone were not the only standouts for the U.S. Richard Park (Vancouver Canucks) was Team USA's captain, while Hal Gill (Boston Bruins) and Malone served as alternate captains.
In goal, Craig Anderson (Chicago Blackhawks) finished with a 3-2-0 record, a 2.36 goals against average and .908 save percentage, while Jason Bacashihua (St. Louis Blues) was 1-1-0 with a 2.14 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.
Forward Phil Kessel (University of Minnesota) and defenseman Ryan Suter (Nashville Predators) finished as Team USA's plus/minus leaders, and Suter was Team USA's top point getter on the blueline.
"You know all the players on the team really going in, you just don't know them personally," said Brown, who was one of the first 15 players chosen for the squad by Paul Holmgren, the general manager of Team USA and the assistant general manager of the Philadelphia Flyers. "It gives you a different perspective on them. You get to know them personally off the ice, rather than just most of them who you play against and don't get to know as a person. The tournament provides the opportunity to get to know them, which is a really good experience."
The 2006 Worlds were not Brown's first experience in the famed red, white and blue. Nor was it the first trip to Europe for the 6-0, 200-pounder who this past season with the Kings set career highs in games played (79), goals (14), assists (14), points (28) and penalty minutes (80).
In 2004, Brown, 20, represented the U.S. at the World Championships in the Czech Republic where he earned a Bronze medal (nine games played, 1-3=4 points); in 2003 he played in the 2003 World Junior Hockey Championships in Canada where he captured a Gold medal (seven games played, 2-2=4); and in 2002 it was the World Juniors in the Czech Republic (seven games played, 1-3=4).
"It's fun every time you can represent your country," Brown said. "They take pretty good care of us and it's always an honor to represent your country. It can get a little long when you're in a foreign country that you're not used to the lifestyle, the food, etc., but they make you feel at home.
"It's always fun to put on that jersey."