U.S. building for 2010

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

HALIFAX -- To Brian Burke, it's the start of something big.

"I believe it's as good a team as the U.S. has ever put into a tournament like this," said the GM of the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks and a member of the four-man advisory group to put this team together.

"This team is the building block to 2010," he said of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.

Today at the IIHF World Hockey Championships it's Canada vs the USA and Burke sees a talented young team of Canadians who want to play for Canada against a talented young group of Americans who want to play for the U.S.A.

That hasn't always been the case with either country. It has for Canada in the past few years. And Burke says it's going to be that way for the United States well into the future.

"First off, this is the deepest pool of players we've ever had to deal with for this tournament."

The Americans haven't had much success over the years at the world championships. In fact, from 1963 to now, the U.S. has only won two medals.

No gold. No silver. Two bronze.

In 2003 the Americans finished 13th. In 1998 they were 14th. Five times in that run, they've been forced to play in Pool B and didn't even qualify for this event. Most years it's been tough to get players to join the team.

At least the Canadian players know that there are people back home who are paying attention even when the tournament is being held in Riga or Moscow like the last two years.

But an American player can go over and win a bronze medal like the team did in Prague in 2004 and return home to an entire nation which had no clue you were over there, or had success.

That may even turn out to be true here this year.

But these young American players, even if nobody in their nation is paying notice, have found somebody to play for - each other.

And that's because of Ann Arbor, Mich., said Burke, who was the GM of this team in 1993 and put this team together with David Poile, Ray Shero and Don Waddell.

("We each made calls. Somebody else called the Edmonton players," he laughed in reference to his relationship with Kevin Lowe after the Oilers signed restricted free agent Dustin Penner.)

In 1996 the U.S. created a residency program for a U-17 team playing and a team playing in the North American Hockey League and a tournament schedule as well as a U-18 team playing against NCAA Division I schools, both located in Ann Arbor.

These young stars have played together before. There's an allegiance to each other.

"A lot of guys have been part of the program at Ann Arbor. It's fun to come back and play again.

"Hopefully this will continue for a long time," said Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.

"We have so many players who have played together in U-17 and U-18 and won gold at the World Junior," said Edmonton Oilers' Matt Greene.

Kane, Greene, Keith Ballard, Phil Kessel, Peter Mueller, Patrick O'Sullivan, Zack Parise, Mark Stuart and David Booth all came through the program.

"There's pride," said coach John Tortorella of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"USA Hockey has had a changing of the guard. You can see how young we are. This is the core of 2010.

"With this group, when the GM called, there was certainly no begging. It's like Don Waddell said, 'We need guys who want to play.'

"These guys want to compete for the United States. Their attitude is dead on."


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