The praise came streaming in from all corners after USA Hockey on Thursday named Kings general manager Dean Lombardi as the GM for Team USA at the 2016 World Cup.
And why not? On the surface, it’s hard to argue with the choice. Lombardi is a proven winner with two Stanley Cups on his résumé. He’s widely admired for his intelligence and a work ethic that routinely keeps him in his office for 12 to 16 hours at a stretch. And there’s no denying the depth of his passion for U.S. hockey. Lombardi put that quality on display in Lake Placid on Thursday during a seven-minute speech in which he referred to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team as “the founding fathers of USA hockey.” He also said that the spirit of ’80 captain Mike Eruzione was with the ’96 World Cup team when Tony Amonte scored the game-winning goal in the upset of Team Canada.
“I just have such admiration for the history of this program and U.S. hockey that I think it transcends hockey, and I just think it’s very important that we learn from that history and continue that on,” he said.
It was a rousing performance, one that surely sent the spirits of U.S. hockey fans soaring.
Until he shot them out of the sky.
Lombardi pointed to two members of his management team, the Flyers’ Paul Holmgren and the Flames’ Brian Burke, and said that their presence was a clue to the style that Team USA will employ at the tournament. “We all sing from the same hymn book,” Lombardi said.
Great. Let’s just go ahead and cue up another fourth-place finish.
Look, there's nothing wrong with a heavy brand of hockey, especially for a tournament will be played on the smaller North American ice surfaces. And yes, as Lombardi pointed out, the 1996 World Cup team featured seven players who racked up more than 1,000 career penalty minutes.
But this is 2016, not 1996, and the style of play championed by Holmgren and Burke has been relegated to the dustbin of history.
Both Holmgren and Burke have been good soldiers for USA Hockey, donating their time and talents for decades. Their service has been invaluable to the growth of the game in this country. But the songs they like to sing have gone out of style. The international game now is all about speed and skill. And Lombardi should have understood that.
It’ll be fascinating now to see which coach the group selects—Lombardi promised to name his bench boss sooner rather than later—as well as the makeup of the roster. It’s entirely possible that they’ll surprise us by crafting a lineup that can match the sizzle and creativity of Canada and Sweden. But after cutting through the myth-making and getting to the heart of Lombardi’s plan, it’s hard to be enthused.