1.07.2010

USA! USA! USA!

If you're looking for a reason to get excited for hockey look no further than the Wisconsin Badgers and their impact on the international game. You may not have heard much about Bucky over the last couple weeks, mostly because college hockey slows down around the holidays. Still, the Badgers are ranked No. 4 in the country.

But we're here to talk about the international tournaments. The winter Olympics are just around the corner and the World Junior Championships have just concluded. The juniors finished with a bang, the United States knocked off Canada in overtime to take the gold.

That squad was led by none other than Wisconsin sophomore Derek Stepan (above), who had 14 points (4 goals and 10 assists) in seven games. Those 14 points also led all scorers for the tournament. But he wasn't the lone member of the cardinal and white who also donned the blue. Joining him were standout defensemen John Ramage, a freshman, and Jake Gardiner, a smooth skating sophomore. The two combined for just six assists but also for an impressive +14 rating, bolstered by Gardiner's +9 which was tied for tops on the team.

All three players are vastly important when they lace up their skates in the Kohl Center, Stepan is the second leading scorer on a team laden with talented upper-classmen. This is a team that could make a deep run come NCAA tournament time and will contend for years to come because of the talent they bring to the table year after year.

Still haven't caught your attention? Fine. Let's move on to Olympic hockey, something everyone can get behind. The rosters were released after last week's Winter Classic at Fenway Park and wouldn't you know it? There's a distinctly Badger presence on that team as well.

A pair of blue-liners and a center who once wore the Wisconsin sweater will all be skating for Team USA when the Olympics get underway. Leading the charge is veteran defenseman Brian Rafalski, who some might remember playing at the Dane County Coliseum over a decade ago. Rafalski is one of only three players with Olympic experience on a young American team and the only defenseman who has been there before. Joining him will be Ryan Suter, a Madison, Wis. native who comes from a long lineage of hockey success and spent a year with Bucky in the early 2000's before signing with Nashville.

The other Badger skating for the stars and stripes is forward Joe Pavelski, who won a national title with Wisconsin back in 2006. Pavelski, from Plover, was the star of that team and has emerged as a steady force for the San Jose Sharks.

Olympic hockey is truly one of the great tournaments in all sports, so when you cheer for the Americans in Vancouver this year don't forget: You can't have Team USA with just the blue, you need the red and white too.

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