American captains lead Kings, Devils

Fact No. 1: Derian Hatcher is the only American-born captain to win the Stanley Cup. He led Dallas to its only Cup in 1998-99.

Fact No. 2: Either the New Jersey Devils’ Zach Parise or the Los Angeles Kings’ Dustin Brown will be the second American-born captain to win the Stanley Cup. Parise and Brown will face off Wednesday night at the Prudential Center in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The two Americans — Brown grew up in Ithaca, N.Y., while Parise is from Minneapolis, Minn. — spent parts of their media availability sessions Tuesday afternoon answering questions about the other and the significance of two American-born captains competing against each other for the Cup.

“It’s great for the game in the U.S.,” Parise said. “That says a lot for American hockey.”

Brown and Parise are not unfamiliar to each other, as both represented the United States on the 2002-03 World Junior team and the 2010 Olympic silver-medal-winning team. Parise also was a member of the 2003-04 gold-medal-winning World Junior team.

“[Playing] with him it’s a lot of fun, he’s a special player. Playing against him is not the [most fun],” Brown said.

“The one thing I say about Zach is that you’re not going to find a more skilled guy who competes harder. He has first-line skill and a fourth-line mentality and work ethic. He probably works harder than any high-end skill guy that I’ve seen.”

Parise was equally effusive with his praise of Brown.

“He’s physical,” Parise said of Brown. “He does everything on the ice. We really have to make sure we are aware when he’s out there.”

Undoubtedly, that two American captains have led their respective franchises to the NHL’s pre-eminent stage is a boon for USA Hockey and its developmental programs. But Devils FM Lou Lamoriello does not believe this Stanley Cup Final is a referendum on the quality of USA Hockey. In Lamoriello’s eyes, the program no longer is in an embryonic stage.

It has fully matured.

“The future of USA Hockey is [here],” Lamoriello told

“I think it’s present. I think the players that are playing in the league — what transpired years ago, that’s gone; they’re all hockey players now. Whether it’s Europe, whether it’s Canada or whether it’s the States, they’re all developing the same way [and in the] same [developmental] leagues — they are all one. If you want to single out American hockey … they made a breakthrough in [1980], and it’s just been better and better [since then].”

Lamoriello’s words echoed those of New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan — another U.S.-born captain — the day before the Rangers-Devils Eastern Conference Final began.

“It shows U.S. players are making an impact and there’s good U.S. players out there. It just shows that U.S. players are growing through the NHL and there’s good ones out there,” said the Rochester, N.Y., native.

“We had a good showing in the Olympics. There’s a lot of young guys in the same age group that were on that team. It just shows that USA hockey is developing, getting better, getting good talent.”

And one of them will raise the Cup skyward in June.

You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman