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Future Is Now For Current Generation Of U.S. Players

By Harry Thompson - USA Hockey Magazine, 09/16/16, 1:45PM MDT

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Team USA Leans on History With Eye on Future

TORONTO -- John Tortorella has a simple message to his team on the eve of the World Cup of Hockey.

"It's Time."

Not only has the time come to kick off the tournament against Team Europe on Saturday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre. It's much bigger than that. It's time, said the head coach of Team USA, for this group of players to carve out their own place in USA Hockey history.

"It's not so much looking to the past or looking to the future, it's about right now," Tortorella said after his team's final practice on Friday. "We feel that we have an opportunity to represent the U.S. of A, and I've said this right from when we started that, especially in today's world with what's going on around us, this is a great opportunity and a great platform to represent your country."

To drive that message home, the Team USA leadership group, led by general manager Dean Lombardi, invited several members of the U.S. military to speak to the team. Their message of sacrifice and selflessness struck a chord with everyone in the U.S. locker room.

"We're going to try to play the right way, to play as a team and be selfless. I think that's important," Tortorella said.

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Those characteristics were the hallmark of successful U.S. Teams that set the table for the current crop of players. Just as the 1960 U.S. Olympic Team created a path for the group that staged the “Miracle On Ice," the 1980 team planted the seeds for the squad that won the World Cup of Hockey in 1996. And that group, which has been hailed as the "greatest generation" of American hockey players, inspired this current crop of stars who have enjoyed individual and team success at the NHL level.

And despite a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and a semifinal showing four years later in Sochi, Russia, it's been debated that this group of players needs to create their own signature moment for future generations to follow.

"I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we want to do it for the next generation," said defenseman Jack Johnson, a senior statesman for Team USA on the international arena.

"You're wearing the same colors that they wore and carrying on that same legacy so we want to cement our own place in history just like they did," said Johnson, who has long worn his passion for playing for his country on his sleeve.

"We know there are little kids watching us, just like we did. We don't want to let them down. Anyone who's watching this tournament, even if they don't know anything about hockey, we don't want to let them down."

But more than focusing on their legacy, the players are focused on having a fast start against a tough opponent. Team Europe is comprised of players from eight countries and features superstars Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara and Anze Kopitar.

"They have a ton of skill and guys who can finish," said veteran defenseman Ryan Suter. "They have a lot of veteran guys who have played internationally before so they know what it takes.

"I think they're finally starting to come together. I'm sure it was tough all these guys from different countries, but everyone seems to be on the same page now so it's going to be a tough game."

Tortorella and his coaching staff spent part of Friday afternoon looking at videotape of Team Europe's three exhibition games, including an impressive 6-2 victory over a Swedish team that is among the tournament favorites.

But from his vantage point, Tortorella is more concerned with how his team adapts to the system put in place over the past two weeks more than what other teams do.

"No disrespect, but in this situation it's really about your team and how you're playing," he said. "I'm sure we'll find some sort of tendencies and make some adjustments here and there, but I am really concerned about how we're going to play."

A fast start can go a long way in a short tournament, especially with a game against Canada looming on the schedule. But that one-game-at-a-time cliche may be overused in sports, but it seems to be applicable in this best-on-best tournament.

If history is any indication, the timing seems to be just about right for this group of talented players to make their mark. It was 20 years between Olympic gold medals, and the World Cup victory came 16 years later. This year's challenge is exactly two decades in the making.

"It seems like it's right around that time again for something special to happen," Patrick Kane said as he paid homage to past U.S. Teams. "We don't forget about what they did. We know a lot about those teams and their success. But we're a different group with different players."

And as everyone of them knows, take care of business today and tomorrow's legacy will take care of itself.

"We're here competing in the World Cup of Hockey," said Kane, who is among nine two-time Olympians. "We have a chance at an international level to prove ourselves again. We're not thinking about 2010 or 2014.

"It's something you can mention, it's something you can talk about, but we're here to win this World Cup and put those other things in the past. You have three games and then hopefully you move on and see what happens after that.

World Cup News

Team USA Schedule & Results

Date Opponent/Event Location Result
Fri, Sept. 9 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Columbus, OH (Nationwide) W, 4-2
Sat., Sept. 10 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Ottawa, Ont. L, 2-5
Tues., Sept. 13 Finland (Pre-Tourn.) Washington, D.C. (Verizon) W, 3-2
Sat., Sept. 17 Team Europe Toronto (ACC) L, 0-3
Tues., Sept. 20 Canada Toronto (ACC) L, 2-4
Thurs., Sept. 22 Czech Republic Toronto (ACC) L, 3-4

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