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Success cultivates USA Hockey medal expectations

by Mike G. Morreale
While there's certainly no guarantee of earning a medal at every international tournament the United States has the privilege to participate in, don't think for a second that management, players and coaches are satisfied coming home empty-handed.

It's actually been a rarity in recent years as USA Hockey continues to thrive and prosper.

The U.S. National Junior Team earned consecutive medals in the World Junior Championship for the first time in tournament history after defeating Sweden in the bronze-medal game in Buffalo in January. The team won the gold medal last year in Saskatoon, Sask., and now has won seven medals at the elite international under-20 tournament -- four of them coming in the last eight years.

"Absolutely, without a doubt, we expect to medal each tournament," Jim Johannson, USA Hockey assistant director of hockey operations, told "More importantly, our players feel the same way. They enter each tournament with that expectation. The Vancouver (Olympics) was unbelievable, and in a crazy way, one of my highlights was to see the disappointment of our guys getting the silver medal, standing there. It was just so surreal and you could feel the disappointment. But it only adds extra motivation."

The U.S. Olympic men's ice hockey team has won 11 Olympic medals, including gold in 1960 and '80, bronze in 1936 and eight silvers (2010, '02, 1972, '56, '52, '32, '24, '20).

"I do think the U.S. expects to medal every tournament now," Nashville Predators forward Colin Wilson told "They've always been a part of the top six teams, but I think of late, there's more interest in hockey. I'm excited to hear that the U.S. is developing more and more kids at a younger age. The more players you see getting into it, the more talent you'll find coming from other places.

"Instead of the Tom Bradys of the world playing football, they're going to start playing hockey and you can only imagine Tom Brady quarterbacking a power play."

Wilson was born in Greenwich, Conn., but learned how to skate in Winnipeg. It wasn't until he returned to the United States at the age of 15 that he began honing his hockey skills with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. Spending two years under the watchful eye of Boston University coach Jack Parker didn't hurt, either. He was named Team USA's Most Outstanding Player at the 2009 WJC after tying for eighth in the tournament with 9 points, including 3 goals, in 6 games. He tied for the goal-scoring lead in the 2008 WJC with 6 goals and finished second on Team USA with 7 points.

"I think the World Championships are a bit of an anomaly only because of when it occurs in late April when the Stanley Cup Playoffs are still going on," USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean said. "The U.S. team is made up of the best available Americans willing to go. But for all the other tournaments, including the World Juniors, the Men's Under-18s, the Women's World Championships and the Olympics, we absolutely expect to come away with a medal."

The U.S. has earned an unprecedented seven consecutive medals at the World Under-18 Championship, including four gold medals (2005, '06, '09, '10), two silvers ('04, '07) and one bronze ('08). It also won gold in 2002. The eight overall medals match Russia for the most ever at the Under-18 Championships.

The U.S. also won the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge gold medal in 2010, the silver in 2011 and is the three-time champion at the World Junior A Challenge. The U.S. Women's National Team has earned three gold medals (2008, '09, '11) and a silver (2010) at the IIHF World Women's Under-18 Championship. In January, the U.S. women outscored (5-2) and outshot (30-16) rival Canada in the U-18 gold-medal game in Stockholm.

"If you look at the last three years, we have medaled in every one of these tournaments," Ogrean said. "We were half-beaten in the World Juniors after losing to Canada in the semis, but the guys picked themselves up and saw how important it was to win the bronze medal and did convincingly.

"At the same time, they went home unfulfilled because they expected to play in the final game and didn't. We've gone from hoping that something will happen in these major tournaments to knowing something can happen, to absolutely expecting it to happen. If we're not in a championship game in these tournaments, we feel unfulfilled."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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