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Pennsylvania Claims "Paint America" Gold

01/08/2014, 4:00pm MST
By USAHockey.com

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Pennsylvania is the gold-medal state it was announced today by The USA Hockey Foundation in wrapping up its “Paint America Red, White and Blue” fundraising campaign that spanned the month of December.
 
The Keystone State's 32 donations led the nation, thus giving it the gold-medal designation. Michigan was not far behind with 27 donors and Massachusetts finished third with 24 donations. Contributions also came from newer hockey markets, including Louisiana, Alabama and South Carolina. In total, some 300 people took part with more than $40,000 raised to benefit the continued advancement of hockey in the United States.
 
“We couldn’t be more thankful to those that participated in this very first Paint America Red, White and Blue campaign,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey and The USA Hockey Foundation. “The contributions received will help further opportunities in the sport at all levels and we are so appreciative of every single gift.”
 
The USA Hockey Foundation supports USA Hockey efforts that provide opportunities to disabled and disadvantaged youth; help increase participation through a variety of initiatives; enhance the safety of the game; help the U.S. be the best internationally; provide education programs for athletes, coaches, officials and parents; and celebrate the game through commemoration.

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From Ice to TV: USA Hockey Alums in Sochi

03/19/2014, 10:30am MDT
By Jessi Pierce

Natalie Darwitz is no stranger to the Olympics. A three-time Olympian with the United States women’s hockey team, Darwitz again found herself at the Winter Games this year. But this time, she wasn’t there to compete.

“All I’ve known is going as an athlete,” Darwitz said. “I guess if I wasn’t playing, being on the media side was the next best thing. The whole experience was definitely interesting and different. It, of course, got me thinking how fun it would be to be back out there. But just being a part of the Olympics is always a great time.”

Darwitz served as a studio analyst for the 2014 women’s tournament on NBC. Before this year, she won two silver medals (2002 and 2010) and a bronze (2006) while being a voice for women’s hockey. While still a voice and presence on-air, Darwitz admits it was incomparable to being on the ice with Team USA.

“Being an athlete at the Olympics, it’s two-and-a-half weeks, but it took a lifetime journey to get there,” said Darwitz. “It’s a different feeling, it’s like you’re finally there and it hits you in the opening ceremony. That’s when you realize it’s something you’ve been training for all your life.

“You don’t feel that way when you’re there as a part of the media or a spectator. You just don’t.”

Darwitz wasn’t the only USA Hockey alum in Russia. On the men’s side, former Team USA defenseman Bret Hedican called the Olympic hockey games on radio for WestwoodOne. Like Darwitz, he said going from athlete to media member requires an adjustment.

“Now that I’m on the media side, it’s kind of neat looking through a different lens,” said Hedican. “As an athlete you’re getting interviewed and now I’m the interviewee; now I see that side of it and realize how big of a story it is.

“Either way, really, it’s always great to be a part of the Olympic Games. These are the greatest athletes in the world and the Olympic spirit is always pure. It’s always something you want to be a part of.”

Hedican took part in the Olympic Games twice – 1992 in Albertville, France, and again in 2006 in Torino, Italy. He has since won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes and currently provides pre- and post-game analysis for the San Jose Sharks.

Though they have been removed from playing the game, Darwitz and Hedican agree that you never fully leave the USA Hockey home.

“It is a family,” said Darwitz. “And once you’re in that family, you have emotions and you have feelings toward it. I want nothing more than, especially on the women’s side, for USA Hockey to be successful.

“Obviously it’s a two-horse race between us and Canada and there’s a lot of talent coming up. This last team was pretty young and a lot of girls can return in four years, so the future is bright. I think they’re on the right course and that’s very positive.”

Hedican added that giving back to that family is the natural next step.

“I think it’s always important to give back to different people or the organization that has given you something,” he said. “USA Hockey gave me such an amazing opportunity and really is the reason I made it to the NHL and turned hockey into a career for as long as I did.

“I always think there’s the next generation that is going to fill in those shoes we walked through. To remain close with the organization that is building it is something you want to do so USA Hockey and the future hockey players are successful.”

LaFontaine on ’96 World Cup: “We Broke a Barrier”

03/31/2015, 2:00pm MDT
By Jessi Pierce

Remembering the 1996 U.S. World Cup victory

Three minutes and 18 seconds. That’s all the time it took for the 1996 United States World Cup squad to shock the hockey world. From 1981-1994, the U.S. Men’s National Team struggled against their neighbors to the north. They had never before beaten Canada in a best-on-best battle through that stretch. But during the inaugural World Cup of Hockey, they did. They became the best in the world, a success USA Hockey hopes to repeat in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

“In Canada, hockey is their pride,” Hockey Hall of Famer and 1996 U.S. team member Pat LaFontaine said. “You’re not supposed to come in to Canada and beat them, best against best. Just look at the names we were going up against. Their four centermen were Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic. We had to beat that talented group of players twice in a row in Montreal. It was a pretty hefty task but the guys really took it upon their shoulders and made it happen.” 

America put its best on the ice, too. Along with LaFontaine, the 1996 U.S. World Cup roster boasted legendary last names such as Chelios, Amonte, Modano and Richter. It was a team made up of 97 percent NHL players with a blend of Olympic veterans and rising stars. 

Rise to the Top
In its inaugural year, the format for the World Cup of Hockey changed slightly from its predecessor, the Canada Cup. Eight teams were separated into two groups, European and North American.

The U.S. completed the round robin group games with a perfect 3-0-0 record, defeating Canada (5-3), Russia (5-2) and Slovakia (9-3). The team’s scoring prowess was notable, outscoring the combined three teams 19-8.

The victories moved Team USA to the semifinals against Russia. The boys in red, white and blue ousted the Russians, 5-2, at Madison Square Garden. 

“Beating Russia in Madison Square Garden, that was a pretty emotional game,” said LaFontaine. “I think there were a lot of eyes on that U.S. World Cup team in 1996 and everyone wanted to see us succeed and move on to the finals. 

“The way our team came together with a passion and a want to achieve something is why we advanced.”

The win pushed the U.S. to the finals where they faced the heavily favored Canadians in the best-of-three championship. The U.S. narrowly lost the first game in Philadelphia with an overtime score of 4-3. It set up a must-win situation for Game 2 in Montreal. Team USA rose to the occasion, forcing a decisive Game 3 after downing the Canadians, 5-2. 

But Game 3 in Montreal wasn’t going to be as easy the first. Heading into the third period, Canada held a 2-1 lead as the clock dwindled.

With just 3:18 remaining in the game, Brett Hull deflected a shot from Brian Leetch past Canadian goaltender Curtis Joseph to knot it at two. Forty-three seconds later Tony Amonte found himself skating through the slot. Derian Hatcher sailed the puck toward the net, Amonte getting a piece of it. After a lengthy review, the goal stood. Team USA was ahead, 3-2, with little more than two minutes to go.

“I remember watching the puck go in off Tony Amonte and soon after that we just took complete control of the game,” recalled LaFontaine, a 15-year NHL veteran, two-time Olympian and 2003 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee. “It’s amazing how things happen and how they can change in a matter of minutes. It was just one of those surreal moments. No one was rattled as the third period wound down. It was a collective calm and that’s what helped us rally to win.”

Derian Hatcher followed with an empty-net goal and Adam Deadmarsh snuck one more past Joseph to seal the deal, 5-2. U.S. goaltender Mike Richter was outstanding in net. The hall of famer made 180 saves through six games and finished the tournament with a .923 save percentage. His play earned him the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award, cementing his place among the world’s elite players.

“We couldn’t have done it without Mike,” LaFontaine said of the team’s netminder. “He was absolutely amazing. He carried the team on his back through that tournament. We all have him to thank for achieving what we did in ’96.”

For LaFontaine and his teammates, the win was comparable to what they had witnessed watching the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice.’ It was the first international championship for Team USA since Lake Placid and a monumental step forward for USA Hockey. Once again the paradigm of hockey in the world had shifted in the Americans favor. 

“We broke a barrier,” said LaFontaine. “Just look at where USA Hockey is now. There was a respect we earned worldwide with that victory.”

Bringing it Back in 2016
The World Cup of Hockey made its second appearance in 2004. After a 12-year drought, the NHL announced this January that the series is coming back in 2016. 

“I think bringing back the World Cup is tremendous,” LaFontaine said. “I think the game is at a great place. It’s grown and seems to be achieving great levels as far as exposure, excitement and growth. To have the World Cup come back again, I couldn’t be happier.”

With 20 years between the 1996 World Cup, LaFontaine says it’s time for the U.S. to mark another big win on the international stage. 

“If you look back in USA Hockey, there were those pillars that were defined by important wins,” said LaFontaine. “The 1960 and 1980 Olympics were two, followed by the 1996 World Cup and the 1998 women’s Olympic gold medal. Those were the big defining moments of USA Hockey. I think we’re due for another one.”

From the Bench to the Booth, Mleczko Makes a Difference

03/19/2014, 10:45am MDT
By Pat Sullivan

While there have been plenty of United States Olympians who’ve embodied the “Got Milk?”-like wholesome symbolism of success over the years, A.J. (Mleczko) Griswold, gold medalist in 1998 and silver medalist in 2002, may top them all. The Nantucket, Mass., native’s credentials border on unassailable.

In 1999 alone, she won a national championship with the Harvard University women’s hockey team, she was selected First Team All-America, she earned the second-ever Patty Kazmaier Award and she claimed Bob Allen Women's Player of the Year honors. She is also a member of two halls of fame: The New England Women's Sports Hall of Fame (2002) and the Women's Beanpot Hall of Fame (2011).

One could convincingly argue that the self-actualization box has been checked.

USA Hockey caught up with Griswold at her Concord, Mass., home recently, where she had just returned from her third Olympics as a hockey broadcaster for NBC Sports. Reflecting on her transition to the media, she said, “It was very different. I had played in two Olympics, retired and started a family. Like anyone entering the field, I had to audition, which was scary, and then take on a steep learning curve. I was seven months pregnant when I first went on the air for the network in Torino.”

As for the contrast between playing a game and communicating a game’s happenings to viewers, Griswold said, “Initially, it was hard to watch and not be involved. It was a new challenge though, to look at hockey in an analytical way, and entirely different to watch a game and form opinions. Furthermore, you have to be impartial. In spite of playing with many of the (Team USA) women on the ice, I noticed it was not as hard to be unbiased.”

She also added, perhaps surprisingly, that “you have more free time as an athlete.” As a broadcaster (at any Olympics), Griswold regularly preps for, and calls, two to three games a day.

When it came to the alleged, Twitter-fueled mishaps in Sochi, Griswold was quick to debunk them.

“I didn’t have the experience (as an employee of NBC Sports) of a typical attendee, but I can tell you my hotel was great and the weather was great. While the four previous host sites spread the Olympics around the respective cities, there was an Olympic Park with beautiful, state-of-the art facilities in Sochi. I ate my meals at the NBC Commissary, where American food was served.”

The byproduct of such a layout, however, was that “I didn’t feel like I was in Russia.”

When asked how she stays close to the game and USA Hockey, the mother of four with husband, Jason, was excited to mention that she is an athlete director with USA Hockey and also a board member with the USA Hockey Foundation.

It’s in coaching though, often times with Jason, a hockey player himself and a lacrosse player in college at Colgate University, that she feels is the best way to stay involved and keep learning.

“Coaching kids, including our own, is the best way to give back, to share your expertise,” she said. “It’s at the grassroots level where you make a real difference.”

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