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New blood mixes with old for U.S. men

The controversial decision to bypass some veterans for younger players creates an intriguing mix.

By TOM JONES
Published February 10, 2006


When Herb Brooks' ragtag college boys upset the Russians and created the Miracle on Ice in 1980, it gave birth to a new generation of U.S.-born hockey players. Those players - Jeremy Roenick, Brian Leetch, Brett Hull and Mike Richter among them - helped turn the United States into a hockey power.

With Brooks behind the bench again in 2002, the Americans lost an epic game to the Canadians and settled for the silver medal.

But as the team heads into Turin, the Americans are suffering a midlife crisis. The familiar stars born out of 1980 are past their primes. The young up-and-comers have yet to arrive as stars. And the U.S. is a mishmash team that could either shock the world and win a medal or finish dead last.

There are leftovers from the 1998 and 2002 teams, including 35-year-olds Mike Modano, Doug Weight and Bill Guerin, and 44-year-old defenseman Chris Chelios. But Hull and Richter are retired and the Americans made the controversial decision to leave out Roenick and Leetch in an attempt to get younger and build for the future.

"We are extremely pleased with our team," said USA general manager Don Waddell, who is also GM of the Atlanta Thrashers, "and feel very confident that we've put a solid group together that will best put us in a position to compete for the gold medal."

The biggest question will be in goal. The Lightning's John Grahame joins goalies Robert Esche of the Flyers and Rick DiPietro of the Islanders. None have ever played in the Olympics.

Meantime, young players such as 25-year-old defenseman Jordan Leopold, and 26-year-old forwards Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta also will be making the first of what the United States hopes is many Olympic appearances.

"The selection process was an extremely difficult one and that's a terrific statement for hockey in the United States," Waddell said. "It means our talent pool in this country continues to grow."

Unfortunately, it might not grow fast enough to win a medal in 2006.