When thinking about popular sports in America, hockey is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. To help with both awareness and growth of the coolest game on earth, USA Hockey is putting on the second annual “Hockey Weekend Across America” event
slated for Feb. 13 - 15.
The event is aimed towards celebrating the game of hockey and all the individuals involved across the nation, while providing opportunities for those who have not played hockey to try it. Hopefully, this will ultimately result in more people playing the game at all levels. Presented by Reebok, each of the three days associated with “Hockey Weekend” has a theme, including “Wear Your Favorite Hockey Jersey” on Friday, “Bring a Friend to the Rink” on Saturday and “Celebrate Local Hockey Heroes” on Sunday. While the event is for everyone, there is an emphasis on the youth of America.
|GM's Poile and Pleau Active with USA Hockey |
Beyond the players, Predators President of Hockey Operations and General Manager David Poile is very active with USA Hockey, as is Larry Pleau, General Manager for the St. Louis Blues. Both Poile and Pleau have served on selection committees for U.S. National Teams.
On June 6, 2008, USA Hockey named Poile the associate general manager for the U.S. team that will compete in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.
Pleau played for Team USA on the 1968 Olympic squad and served as GM for Team USA at the 2003 and 2004 World Championships and 2004 World Cup of Hockey. He gives USA Hockey a lot of credit for the sport's growth within the United States and gives USA Hockey's National Team Development Program high marks for its ability to help the US improve its standing in international tournaments.
"It’s helped players develop in an elite and high level program early on in their career," Pleau said of the NTDP. "The development program has helped not just for the international level but for the college level as well."
“It’s exciting for the U.S. to put that weekend together,” said Ryan Suter
, one of two U.S.-born players on the Predators roster, along with David Legwand
. “I think it’s neat for USA hockey and all the youth hockey players out there. It should be a fun weekend.”
Coming from hockey-rich Madison, Wis., there was never a shortage of the sport for Suter. With his father being a part of the “Miracle on Ice” team that won a gold medal in the 1980 Olympics and his uncle playing in more than 1,100 NHL games, Suter was at the rink from the time he could walk. Some of his greatest memories include being around the sport of ice hockey.
“Some of my best memories are of seeing my uncle play in the NHL and getting to watch him play in Chicago,” Suter said. “I even got to watch the last Blackhawks game in the old Chicago Stadium.”
Suter has also had his fair share of success while donning the Red, White and Blue. He helped Team USA win three gold medals in international competition – including the United States’ first World Junior Championship in 2004.
“Whenever you can represent your country it’s a great honor,” Suter said. “I just feel so lucky to be able to play for them.”
Suter praises USA Hockey for focusing on the youth and expanding their horizons to places other than traditional hockey markets. The inclusion of children from a younger age provides for a bigger fan base, and can open the doors for players from non-traditional hockey regions to advance further up the competitive ladder. In 2006, the Predators drafted Brentwood, Tenn.’s own Blake Geoffrion, then selected Jonathon Blum
in the first round of the 2007 Entry Draft, making him the first California-born and trained player to be selected in the first round.
“It says a lot about USA Hockey – how good of a job they’re doing,” Suter said. “They’re not just focusing on the supposed ‘hockey markets.’ They’re trying to go outside the box and it’s really starting to show. Kids are coming from the south and west – Florida and Arizona. Who would have thought those were hockey markets? Now you’re getting really good players out of those places.”
While Suter has always been around hockey his entire life, he realizes not all children have had the same experience. He hopes events like Hockey Weekend Across America will instill into the youngsters a passion for the game he loves.
“Any press is good for the younger kids to see that weekend, and I think they’ll enjoy it,” Suter said. “Just to be a part of it will be a good experience.”