The U.S. Hockey Empire
There's no question the United States has had some glorious moments in international hockey.
The quirky reality, however, is rarely have the Americans been able follow up on one of these great victories with comparable success, or any success at all.
That's certainly been the case this year at the world junior hockey championships in Alberta. The U.S. won a surprise gold in 2010 (Saskatoon) with a team that wasn't supposed to be ready to compete until the following year in Buffalo. Instead of that triumph beginning a mini-run of success at the event, the U.S. produced only a bronze in Buffalo and this year can finish no higher than seventh after upset losses to Finland and the Czechs.
It's a similar pattern that followed other breakthrough years at the WJC. In 1992, the Americans captured a bronze and looked to be on their way up. Instead, they won only one medal over the next 11 tournaments until they took the gold in 2004. After that, they captured only a single bronze in the following five WJC events.
The same goes at higher levels. In 1960, the U.S. won Olympic gold in Squaw Valley, then won only one medal (silver, 1972) in the next four Games.
Then there was the Miracle on Ice in 1980, supposed to be the moment that put the U.S. on the international hockey map. Instead, the Americans went the next five Olympics without winning a single medal.
Finally, the U.S. victory at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey was supposed to signal a new era of American power in world hockey. Instead, the Americans haven't captured a best-on-best title since, although they did win Olympic silver in 2002 and 2010.
Nobody doubts that the U.S. is a legitimate world power now, or that the country is the source of some of the world's top hockey talent.
But the results over the decades internationally have been curiously sporadic, marked by an inability to follow up on major success with more of the same. Maybe it's the structure of USA Hockey that doesn't lead to consistent results, or the way American teams are constructed for these major international events. These days, it's certainly not a question of talent.
Quirky, to be sure.