Does American hockey really have an identity? On local rinks across the United States, are the youth taught a specific identity for success? Football and basketball certainly enforce the “defense wins championships” mantra whilst baseball uses the cliche of “fundamentals” to instill proper sporting values into America’s youth.
For hockey, though, the youth sporting culture is far different. New York, where Team USA winger Patrick Kane is from, ranked 16th in hockey players per population percentage, which is rather astonishing considering urban markets such as New York City can inflate the numbers.
A rather unique part of American youth hockey is that skills are not refined on the pond in a backyard but rather on partitioned, smaller ice arenas. Despite the NHL’s push for romanticism, it is clear that USA Hockey enforces the idea of creating smaller rinks rather than wide open pond skating.
Per Roger Grillo of usahockeymagazine.com in a 2010 article, “It is important to expose our young players to as many situations in which they are not only challenged physically, but as important that they are forced to use their minds. These games put players in situations where they have to make hockey decisions that have consequences, and they develop their hockey sense along with their physical skills.”
Nobody encapsulates that philosophy more than Patrick Kane. In his time with the Blackhawks, Kane has made an astonishing on-ice transformation from a player playing with uncertainty to a calculated assassin. With the puck on his stick, Kane is able to create unheralded amounts of space, opening previously closed passing lanes and creating opportunities to put the puck in the back of the net.
This incredibly polished Kane also has two benefits that he did not have in 2010. The first is Sochi’s larger ice surface which should benefit the fast and patient Kane. Sochi’s ice arena also has the European style of boards where stick-checking and Marian Hossa-style takeaways will create offensive opportunities. The second is chemistry and experience. Kane is no longer an Olympic rookie, and his first taste of competition gave him plenty of lessons and opportunity for growth.
Kane will return to his Captain America role a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, one with more polish on and off the ice than many believed possible in four years. This time, Kane’s role as a bona fide American superstar will come with a different aspect. Kane’s performance can affect who American hockey players look up to for years to come.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486