TORONTO — The United States scored two goals in two losses at the World Cup of Hockey before being eliminated.
In the first period of Team North America’s game against Sweden, U.S.-born players scored three goals all by themselves. The players — Auston Matthews, Vincent Trocheck and Johnny Gaudreau — weren’t eligible to be picked for Team USA, but they are part of a wave of young American stars that should be part of international competitions for years to come.
“You could argue some of those guys would have made our team or been in consideration for making the American team,” U.S. star Patrick Kane said Thursday. “USA Hockey is in a good place.”
On Team North America alone there are Matthews, Gaudreau, forwards Jack Eichel and Brandon Saad and defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Seth Jones who should be wearing red, white and blue if NHL players participate in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. That’s a silver lining for the U.S. after flaming out of the World Cup.
“We got some great guys on our team and there’s still some great guys on that (U.S.) team, as well,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s going to be a good blend of the veterans to the younger guys. It’s exciting to see.”
U.S. coach John Tortorella and players implied that the team would’ve had a different look if American players 23 and under were eligible for selection and not bound to Team North America. Even if Eichel, Gaudreau, Saad and Jones were the only likely candidates, they would have helped.
This World Cup was a failure for the Americans, but USA Hockey gets to look forward to a time when Matthews might be its No. 1 center and Gostisbehere and Jones two of its top defensemen. North American coach Todd McLellan refused to pile on the U.S. for going 0-2 but praised his young Americans, who blended well with young Canadians Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Colton Parayko and others.
“In my opinion they have a tremendous and bright future ahead of them in USA Hockey,” McLellan said. “They all have things to learn, and they have to grow up physically and mentally. But a lot of the countries are doing a tremendous job right now, the U.S. included.”
The scary part for the U.S. is that Canada keeps churning out young talent like McDavid, MacKinnon, defenseman Morgan Rielly and goaltender Matt Murray. American depth may never match Canadian depth, but the influx of speed and skill from Gaudreau, 2016 No. 1 pick Matthews, Eichel, Dylan Larkin and Gostisbehere can’t hurt.
“There is definitely a fantastic future coming here, not only for the U.S.A., I think for Canada, also,” Tortorella said. “There’s some pretty good players coming through for Canada. But yeah, there are some good young kids there that, I think, they’ll bring some juice to the program.”
U.S. center David Backes said that if the 23-and-under players were available he might not have been on the team. The same could be said of forward Brandon Dubinsky and defensemen Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson.
“The only thing that might have changed your outlook, yeah, if you had access to those guys (23) and under, would you have changed the script, would it have given you a chance to maybe look at that?” general manager Dean Lombardi said. “Would we have done it? I’m not sure.”
Those players were instead part of Team North America, which was quick, skilled and easily one of the most exciting teams in the tournament.
“Those are a lot of guys that are going to be playing for the U.S. and Canada real soon,” U.S winger Zach Parise said.
Canada coach Mike Babcock said Team North America was a glimpse into the NHL 10 years from now. It’s closer to two, not only for the NHL but for USA Hockey, even if players don’t yet want to think ahead to 2018.
“It’s a long ways down the road and there’s lots to be decided if that’s going to happen,” defenseman Jacob Trouba said. “We’ll see. They obviously have a lot of talent on (the North American) team and there’s a lot of talent on (the U.S.) team. It’ll be fun to see what happens if they come together.”
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