ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - Patrick Maroon and his best friends, Shawn Gawrys and Kyle Kraemer, played roller hockey throughout their entire childhood in St Louis, MO and continued to do so into their 20s. They won a lot of tournaments and championships together over the years, but none more special than in the summer of 2010.
Dan Brennan, the director of the USA Hockey National Inline Team, needed one more player for the 2010 IIHF Inline World Championship in Karlstad, Sweden. Already on the team, Gawrys and Kraemer suggested he call Maroon. Problem was Maroon had just completed his second season as a professional hockey player and was under contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.
"I was taking the chance of getting hurt, but I wanted to do it," Maroon explained. "I had never been to Europe and I had never represented USA at any level of anything and this was a world championship with my best friends. It was an absolute yes."
The trio lead Team USA in scoring and tallied all four goals in the championship game against Czech Republic to win the gold medal.
"It was an experience of a lifetime. I will always remember that. It was the best 12 days of my life," said Maroon, who has spent the past three seasons as a full time NHL player with the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers
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Fast forward six years and Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey and general manager of Team USA at the 2016 IIHF World Championship, was looking for a veteran guy to help glue his inexperienced team together and show them the ropes both on and off the ice.
"Matt Hendricks filled that role for us last year, and again this year, and with Pat, we're adding a little bit of a different kind of character," Johannson explained with a smile. "But, hopefully a guy that gets real engaged in the tournament as it progresses."
When Peter Chiarelli, president of hockey operations and general manager of the Oilers, called Maroon to see if he'd be interested, there was nothing to consider. It was another absolute yes.
"I will never forget the phone call from Peter Chiarelli. I had a smile from ear to ear. I never thought I'd have this opportunity. This is very, very special and it's a privilege to be asked to be a part of it," Maroon said. "This is huge."
Although his only international experience came while wearing roller blades instead of the steel variety, he can still draw on the experience while representing the red, white and blue over the next three weeks in Russia.
"We might be a young team, but these kids are really, really talented and I want to be able to be a leader for them and help them all play at their best so we can come home with a medal," Maroon said. "On the inline team, I watched these guys do their work on their computer in the hotel and saw their love and passion for the game and what they were willing to sacrifice for this opportunity.
"I wanted to win because I'm a competitive guy and I want to win, but I also wanted to win for them and help them have this moment," he continued. "This is no different. I want to help these guys have this moment and go home with a medal. I want to play hard for them."
That competitive attitude is exactly what Johannson hopes Maroon will bring to the ice.
"He's got a strong net-front presence with size and he's a guy that's going to make a mark physically and be ready to push back at times in this tournament," he said of the 6-foot-3, 230-pound winger. "I also think he'll embrace some of these younger guys from a protective standpoint. I am sure Auston [Matthews] can take care of himself, but if someone decides to give him an extra shot, I expect Pat to be right there."
Known for his versatility and ability to be a spark plug and fill any role, Maroon is slated to start the tournament on Matthews' line. Also known for his personality, he hopes to include that on the list of attributes he can bring to Team USA in Russia.
"I like to be a character guy and have fun in the locker room and make the guys laugh and just be a good teammate," he said with a smile. "The closer you are as a team, the better it is, the more fun you have, everyone will be smiling and in a good mood and that all helps you play better."
Said Johannson: "I think the young guys can equally help him as much as he can help them, both on and off the ice. I think he is a great fit for this team."
The tournament starts on Friday, May 6 with USA and Canada facing off at 7am MT on TSN.