Americans look thin on ice

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:40 PM ET

When it came to piquing Americans' interest in hockey, Olympic participation seemed to be a surefire bet, at least during the last 25 years.

But as the USA Hockey Olympic orientation camp concluded on Thursday, it was difficult not to look at the potential roster without a multitude of questions ... and perhaps a bit of skepticism.

The Americans will argue that this is a team with the proper mix of international and NHL success. Some of the older components have been replaced with younger talent.

Unfortunately for American fans, names like Brett Hull and John LeClair were substituted for lesser-known players such as Mark Eaton and Chris Higgins -- a Montreal Canadiens' first-round pick who has only played two games in the NHL.

Make no mistake, the potential U.S. roster does have some talent. Gritty right winger Dustin Brown definitely qualifies as a fresh American addition. A noted prospect for the Kings, the top-line scorer played with the Manchester Monarchs last year. He finished with 74 points, was a starter on the PlanetUSA AHL All-Star team and is drawing comparisons to Adam Deadmarsh.

Meanwhile, 25-year-old Jordan Leopold has already demonstrated why he is a top defenceman for Calgary -- second in ice time only to Robyn Regehr, and with an offensive touch. Leopold will be a valuable addition to the U.S. team.

But when comparisons are ready to be made, the American squad will need to measure itself against Canada. And based on the Canadian orientation camp held last month, it seems a daunting task.

The potential Canadian participants for Turin 2006 reads like the character list from Anna Karenina without the Russian surnames -- long and involved, deep and intimidating.

Wayne Gretzky and his cohorts from Hockey Canada will have a virtual buffet of players to pick from, with names like Jay Bouwmeester and Dany Heatley being forced to battle for an Olympic opportunity.

And, of course, there's the greatest Canadian hockey star yet to play in the NHL -- Sidney Crosby -- who will mature with Pittsburgh and surely be given the opportunity to showcase himself at Vancouver 2010. Team Canada is in possession of such depth that it doesn't need to rely on the new face of the NHL. Listen closely and you can hear Zach Parise's knees knocking.

In respect to its quality, USA Hockey is in a bit of a valley period. But those that are willing to ride out this low stretch will be handsomely rewarded. The Americans struck gold at the under-18 championship this year, and their world junior team came out on top in 2004. This year's NHL entry draft reflected that fact, with a record-breaking eight American-born players being taken in the first round.

USA Hockey will recover and hopefully American fans will be patient enough to see it through. In the meantime, Canadian fans need to look beyond Turin. We don't need a Miracle on Ice II at Vancouver 2010, unless you like the idea of Disney producing a horror movie.

BASEBALL PUNK: The dynamic between punk rock and sport is an intriguing one. Until a week ago, I thought that the music's relationship to baseball specifically applied only to Barry Zito's occasional improv of NOFX, and Pulley, the band of retired set-up man Scott Radinsky. However, a memoir written by former Bad Religion drummer John Albert changed that idea. Wrecking Crew is the tale of the Griffith Park Pirates, an L.A. baseball team comprised of punks, recovering drug addicts, out-of-work actors and a cross-dressing pitcher thrown in for good measure. It's graphic, darkly humourous and transcends baseball far beyond traditional athletics and athletes. Definitely pick this one up if you are looking for something different from the prototypical sports read.

ADS TENDING?: Sportsnet reported last week that the NHL is considering placing advertising on goalies' jerseys, and having the netminders sport different colours to allow them to stand out. This will go far in the battle to convince skeptical Americans that hockey bears little similarity to soccer.

erinnicks@yahoo.ca


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