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Roenick: Blue Jackets model for Team USA success

by Dan Rosen

Strange as it sounds considering how the Columbus Blue Jackets have struggled this season, NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick uses them as his model for how the United States will have to play in order to win the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

"We're not going to beat Canada on talent; we're going to beat Canada on determination and grit and will," said Roenick, who played for the U.S. national team four times, including twice in the Olympics. "It's similar to the way Columbus plays right now. They're not going to win on talent; they're going to win on sheer determination to try to beat you down."

When it was immediately pointed out to Roenick that Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella also is the coach of the U.S. World Cup team, he said he didn't even make that connection when he made the comparison.

"I didn't, but it speaks volumes," Roenick said. "It's exactly what I mean."

Roenick, however, worries the U.S. might have the same problem as the Blue Jackets.

Do they have enough players who can win playing that style?

Roenick said the American performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympic was a step backward in part because Canada was "so dominant, so good." But the roster of U.S. players left him wanting for more players who played with the same level of grit and determination as the Canadians.

The U.S. lost to Canada 1-0 in the semifinals and 5-0 to Finland in the bronze medal game.

"The U.S. has to step up and get more players that have that grit and grind, that love the uniform as much as it should be loved," Roenick said. "I was asked the question recently: ‘Who on the American team really signifies the true grit, hard work, that down-home mentality?’ I talked about [Zach] Parise, [Joe] Pavelski. I would say [David] Backes, but Backes doesn't have the talent level of those guys. Maybe [Ryan] Kesler. Maybe [Ryan] Suter. But after that, who signifies that American, ‘I'm going to be tough, mean, and have that killer mentality?’ That's what they need."

Roenick said the reason the United States won gold at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey was because it had talented players who combined their skill with that mentality. He didn't play in that tournament because he was between contracts.

"They demanded to be respected and they weren't going to back down from the Canadas of the world, thinking we were inferior," Roenick said. "Keith Tkachuk took on Keith Primeau. Joel Otto took on Mario Lemieux. Everyone was like, 'You guys aren't pushing us around this time.' "

Roenick said it would be smart of USA Hockey to bring in some of the players from the '96 American team to talk to the 2016 American team before the tournament starts next year.

"The education of what '96 meant to the U.S., to the guys that are going to be playing, is huge," Roenick said. "Whether that's bringing [Chris] Chelios, [Mike] Modano, [Gary] Suter or [Brett] Hull around these guys so it's there, so that mentality is bred into them, I think it's important."


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