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Lombardi tasked with identifying Team USA's leaders

by Shawn Roarke /

TORONTO -- Dean Lombardi, the general manager of Team USA for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, has an extensive to-do list for the next 10 months.

Atop that list is finding the leaders who will drive the team he and his management group pick to represent the United States next fall.

Lombardi, the general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, said Tuesday he ranks leadership among the most important characteristics for Team USA for the eight-team tournament, which runs Sept. 17 to Oct. 1 at Air Canada Centre.

He expects there to be turnover from the U.S. team that was assembled for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. That team finished a disappointing fourth after back-to-back losses to Canada and Finland.

"I think there is a trend toward having a bit of a turnover," Lombardi said at the League office here during a break in the fall meeting of NHL general managers. "On two accounts too. Not only with some players, but with the players that will be back to start assuming more hands-on leadership roles. That's one of the things we learned from [Sochi]. I'm not sure some of those players realized that it is now their team, their responsibility to take over. So I think there will be a transition there, as well as new faces."

Lombardi mentioned three players by name: forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh of the New York Rangers. He expects them to form the nucleus of the leadership group.

He also said he will make it clear to each of those players what is expected of them on the leadership front. He does not want the uncertainty he believes was present in Sochi to rear its head again at the World Cup.

If a blueprint for Team USA is needed, Lombardi said the U.S. team from the 1996 World Cup is the ideal reference. That team won the three-game championship series against Canada by winning the final two games in Canada. Lombardi has referenced that team often since he was named Team USA GM in August.

"I have even gone back and talked to those guys on that '96 team, which I think is the greatest American team ever assembled," Lombardi said. "They were hard, they were committed and they were talented. To do what they did and do it in Canada, that was a really, really special group. We've gone back and looked to make sure that we can recapture that."

For that reason, it is expected Team USA will resemble an NHL team in composition rather than be a collection of all-star players as so often is the case in best-on-best tournaments. Lombardi said he has spent two months planning and preparing to build a team in the same manner he would in the NHL.

"I'm kind of changing that process a little to reflect how we build our teams in the NHL and just trying to find a way to accelerate it, knowing there is a very short timeframe," he said. "Part of this, the way we are setting those players up, looking at the chemistry, looking at the leadership."

He said he plans to rely heavily on the regional scouts on his staff to expand the list of potential players, and then it will be job of the managers, as well as the coaches, to narrow that list down and find the perfect players for Team USA.

According to the rules of the tournament, each team must provide a roster of 16 players by March 1. The final 23-man rosters must be submitted by June 1.

While March 1 seems far away, Lombardi said he is ready to start the heavy lifting now. He plans to meet with other members of the Team USA management staff after the conclusion of the GM meetings Tuesday and discuss specific players in further detail.

"I think the meetings we are having this week will be the first real step given that we have had two months," Lombardi said. "We did a lot of planning, but now we will get more into the grassroots of how players are performing."

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