Published: June 11, 2013
USA Hockey's recent world championship success is no fluke. It is the result of years of work at the national and local levels.
For the first time, the Colorado Springs-based organization led the world in medals at the six International Ice Hockey Federation championships with three golds, including one in inline this past weekend, two silvers and a bronze.
The governing body's strong showing can be traced to improved depth through better education and training at the local, state and regional levels and the arrival of those associations in populous warm-weather states where the NHL expanded.
"This is not something that came out of nowhere," USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said. "We have done a good job capitalizing on the NHL's growth. Wherever there is a franchise, there is growth in youth involvement."
The creation of the American Development Model in 2009 provided a blueprint for creating a youth association. The membership development department provides training resources for leaders living in those expansion areas.
More and more American national team players hail from California and other states, instead of just the Midwest and Northeast.
"If you look at the rosters you see all sorts of states represented that weren't just a few years ago," said Phil Housley, a men's world championships assistant coach. "But it isn't just numbers. Coaches and volunteers are becoming more educated and trained. It is no longer just throwing some pucks on the ice."
With more and better talent coming up, coaches may focus more on developing role players, women's national coach Katey Stone said.
It still takes stars to win. More than 50 alumni from the 17-year-old U.S. National Development Team Program have played in the NHL, providing the backbone of the men's national team.
Having that level of talent available makes the days of a ragtag group of college boys beating a powerhouse a thing of the past.
"There will be no more 'Miracles on Ice'," USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio said, referring to the iconic 1980 Olympic upset of the Soviets. "There is no reason to think we can't play for a medal year in and year out."
Ogrean said a foundation is in place for the future. During the 2011-12 season, 355,422 youths participated in the United States including a record 107,000 ages 8 and under.
USA Hockey may not bring home six IIHF medals next year - DeGregorio and Ogrean cautioned that available senior men's players are determined by NHL results - but the days of low expectations are gone.
"We don't go into tournaments just hoping to medal anymore," said goalie John Gibson, who won a gold with the men's juniors and took bronze with the senior men in 2013. "We go in expecting to win gold every time. That's a real difference from how things were in the past."