Guerin the man to lead U.S. gold rush

BY foxsports • December 23, 2009

The Greatest Generation of American hockey players has all but receded into memory and ceremony. The boys who banded together to win the 1996 World Cup championship and the 2002 silver medal at the Salt Lake Olympics meet and greet these days at various Hall of Fame inductions.

They were big fish in a small U.S. pond of hockey players back then: guys like Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Mike Richter, Pat LaFontaine, Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher and Tony Amonte who had been inspired by the 1980 Miracle at Lake Placid.

But that era is gone. Brian Burke, the general manager of the 2010 U.S. squad that will compete in the Vancouver Games, phrases it somewhat more diplomatically, but even he acknowledges that this team will be comprised of smaller fish from a larger pond.

For whatever the reason, there is an absence of elite talent in the gene pool that reflects a missing generation. Kids like Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, Paul Stastny, Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler, David Booth and Erik Johnson are emerging stars who might one day lead Team USA to greater glory, but the 2010 Yanks will largely be devoid of upper-echelon experience.

Which is why when Team USA's Olympic roster is announced during the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Fenway Park, Burke should name Billy Guerin - World Cup champion in 1996, Olympic silver medal winner in 2002, Stanley Cup winner in 1995 in New Jersey and 2009 in Pittsburgh - to wear the Red White and Blue one more time.

Guerin is 39, but his age has not prevented him from riding shotgun for Sidney Crosby, whose on-ice demeanor has matured exponentially since Guerin joined his locker room last March as another of Penguins GM Ray Shero's outstanding trade deadline acquisitions.

Guerin demands respect without asking for it. He is a presence inside the room and on the ice. Referees defer to him. So do teammates. He doesn't necessarily present a portfolio of sophistication that would prompt anyone to define him as an elder statesman, but 17 years of upper-echelon, multiple-championship service in the NHL stamps him as a leader.

Team USA needs a leader such as Guerin, who has been there on the international championship. Guerin can and will go to the net; he can and will play the mean-edged hockey advocated by Burke.

It's not about what his country can do for Guerin, it's what Guerin can do for his country's hockey team. Guerin to Vancouver, the Red Sox fan as captain of the Yanks.

Suggested Team USA roster:

Goaltenders (3): Ryan Miller, Buffalo; Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles; Tim Thomas, Boston.

Defense (7): Paul Martin, Devils; Brian Rafalski, Detroit; Erik Johnson, St. Louis; Mike Komisarek, Toronto; Ryan Suter, Nashville; Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh; Tyler Myers, Buffalo.

Forwards (13): Guerin, Pittsburgh; Zach Parise, Devils; Jamie Langenbrunner, Devils; Ryan Callahan, Rangers; Patrick Kane, Chicago; Ryan Kesler, Vancouver; Dustin Brown, Los Angeles; Phil Kessel, Toronto; Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay; Dustin Byfuglien, Chicago; Bobby Ryan, Anaheim; Paul Stastny, Colorado; David Booth; Florida.

Potential injury replacements: Goaltender: Craig Anderson, Colorado; Defensemen: Matt Carle, Philadelphia; Ryan Whitney, Anaheim; Alex Goligoski, Pittsburgh; Forwards: Paul Gaustad, Buffalo; T.J. Oshie, St. Louis; Kyle Okposo, Islanders; Drew Stafford, Buffalo; Tim Connolly, Buffalo.

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