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World Cup Preview: Team U.S.A.

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
A veteran with Leafs TV, you can watch Paul Johnson on various shows on the network including his work on Leafs Today, Rivals and much more.

August 12, 2004

For the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, most countries will go with a mix of young and old, but no country will go with as much "old" as Team USA. 


The last World Cup was back in 1996 - some eight years ago - and this year's US squad will include no less than 13 of the players that helped win it all almost a decade ago.  Throw in the same head coach in Ron Wilson and suffice to say that it's a "veteran" team that USA hockey has put together in an effort to defend their title. 


Returning from the '96 team are some of the best players the United States have ever produced including Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Brett Hull, Tony Amonte, Bryan Smolinski, Steve Konawalchuk and Brian Rolston. 

Brett Hull is back on the US squad.
(Getty Images)
Team USA went 6-1 in the '96 World Cup and a big part of their success was a due to the contributions of a number of the players just mentioned.

Hull led all players in goals with seven, and points with 11 and, while he may be eight years older now, he is still one of the best pure goal scorers in the game today.

Doug Weight finished tied for third in tournament scoring with seven points, while Keith Tkachuk was second only to Hull in goals with five and Mike Modano and Tony Amonte each finished with six points in seven games. Each will again be heavily leaned on for this year's edition of the tournament.

On defence, the US will be very long in the tooth, but rich with NHL and International experience. 


Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Derian Hatcher are all returnees from the '96 team and have proven that if you work at it, age is not an issue.  At 42, Chelios played 69 games for the Red Wings this season and collected 21 points, 61 penalty minutes and was a +12. 


Chelios' teammate Mathieu Schneider was also named to the team, but pulled out because of his uncertain contract status.  His 14 goals and 46 points from the back end this past season will be missed, but what they lose in offence, they gain in muscle with his replacement; Hal Gill. At 6-7, and 250 lbs, Gill is an imposing figure and played all 82 games for the Bruins this past season, scoring twice and finishing with a +16 rating. 


Also on the point is another Red Wing D-man; Derian Hatcher.  Despite missing most of the year recovering from knee surgery, he picked up four points in 15 games and was a +8 when he returned. 


Brian Leetch is back on the blueline for Team USA.
(Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)

Brian Leetch meanwhile donned a jersey other than that of the New York Rangers for the first time in his career when he was traded to the Maple Leafs at the deadline.  Leetch finished the year with 15 goals and 51 points while playing 72 games.

The biggest change for the '04 US squad will be in goal, as none of the netminders from the previous team will take to the ice this summer.  In fact, none of the previous backstops are even in the NHL anymore. 


Mike Richter; who was perhaps the biggest reason the US won eight years ago, retired after suffering another concussion. Guy Hebert hasn't been heard from in almost four years, while Jim Carey hasn't played in the NHL since he played four games for the Blues in the '98-'99 season. 


This year's trio of goalies is made up of Robert Esche, Ty Conklin, and Rick Dipietro.  Esche was a big part of the Flyers run to the Eastern Conference Finals, but will be recovering from offseason hip surgery.  Conklin established himself as the No. 1 guy in Edmonton and allowed the Oilers to trade former No. 1 goalie Tommy Salo to the Avalanche. 


Dipietro meanwhile has been the "next great" goalie for a few years now, and until this past season hadn't really shown it.  He finished the '03-'04 season with a 23-18-and-5 record in a career high 50 games.

Rounding out the roster will be most of the US team's youth including Jason Blake, Jeff Halpern, Chris Drury, Jamie Langenbrunner, Scott Gomez (who replaced Jeremy Roenick), along with veteran first-timer Craig Conroy. 


On defence, the newcomers include Ken Klee, Aaron Miller, Jordan Leopold, and Brian Rafalski.


With 17 of the 23 American skaters 30 or older, you can look at this team as old ... or experienced.  Either way, the US may be hard-pressed to keep up with the younger, faster teams in the tournament, but remember this - there is no substitute for experience, and they're still the World Cup champs until someone else proves otherwise.

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