NEWARK -- Hockey has been considered Canada’s game, but slowly but surely, USA hockey has been making inroads.
When the puck drops tonight in Newark for game one of the Stanley Cup Final, two American-born captains will be on either side, the first time in the 119-year history of the League's prestigious chalice. Zach Parise, the captain of the Devils, may be best known by the casual fan for his game-tying goal in the Gold Medal Game against Canada in the Olympics. Dustin Brown, who wears the 'C' for Los Angeles, was on that Olympic squad too.
But that wasn’t the first time the duo played alongside each other. Parise and Brown have been together through various levels of international competition, at the World Junior Championships in 2003, as well as World Championships in 2008 prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics.
“It seems like every USA event we’re playing together,” Parise said during media day on Tuesday.
“I know Zach really well since we were 15, 16 years old,” Brown added. “It’s one of those, you get to know certain guys better and he was one of those guys I met and got along with.”
Parise developed an understanding for how Brown played and how talented he was when they were paired together on a line in the 2003 World Junior tournament in Nova Scotia, Canada. Parise finished eighth in tournament scoring (4-4-8) as the Americans lost the Bronze Medal game to Finland.
“He’s a great player,” Parise said of Brown. “Even if he’s not scoring, getting assists or anything, you know when he’s out there. He does a lot of things out there that might not wind up on the score sheet, but he’s a very effective player even when he’s not scoring.”
Brown says that his counterpart is the more skilled player of the two but that he has the “bigger impact on the game from a physical standpoint.” Though he said they both do the little things right.
The emergence of stars like Brown and Parise lends credence that American hockey is on the rise. Areas like Pittsburgh have become hotbeds for hockey in the US, albeit thanks in large part to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But the success of Americans such as Rob Scuderi, who famously made the best save in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, have helped hockey sink it's claws into the steel city. As fate would have it, this year's NHL Draft will take place there in a few short weeks.
The success of the Gretzky-led Kings in 1993, who ultimately fell short of winning the Cup, drove the sport's popularity in California to new heights as well. This year's run is expected to increase interest as well.
“It’s great for the game in the U.S.,” Parise said about having two American-born captains in the finals. “I didn’t know that it’s been the first time two American captains in the finals. Someone told me that a bit ago, I didn’t know that, so that says a lot for American hockey.”
“I think it’s a good thing for USA Hockey that we have that type of players coming out of USA Hockey,” Brown added. “This is probably the biggest stage ever from a US hockey standpoint other than the Olympics. It’s something to take pride in. I think American hockey, USA Hockey is going in the right direction in terms of having more players in the spot light.”
13 years ago, Derian Hatcher became the first U.S.-born captain to raise the Stanley Cup when the Dallas Stars won in 1999. Now, Parise and Brown have guaranteed that it will happen again in 2012.