U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame honorees praise growth of national program

BOSTON — The Dallas Stars had only been in Texas for a single season when Jamie Langenbrunner made his NHL debut in 1994-95 for the franchise that had formerly been the Minnesota North Stars, the team from his home state. He would stay for eight seasons, watching as hockey cottoned onto Texas and Texas began to cotton onto the hockey.

Langenbrunner has seen a vast expansion of the hockey world in his time in the NHL, from his 18 seasons playing for the Stars, New Jersey Devils and St. Louis Blues, to his time in management with the Boston Bruins.

It’s a different USA Hockey than it used to be. And it only pushes to get bigger.

“Having the good fortune of starting my career in Dallas, I got to see from the grassroots there the growth in the South in a nontraditional hockey market,” Langenbrunner said, an assistant general manager for the Bruins. “Having been in management now and watching players, Las Vegas, Texas, Florida, it’s all over the place, which is just awesome for the United States’ growth.

“As a Minnesotan, maybe it’s a little bit hard.”

He laughed.

“USA Hockey has done a wonderful job of spreading it out and really making hockey available in all areas, which can only help our game in the long run,” Langenbrunner said.

Which is why Langenbrunner, Brian Burke and others at the 2023 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction Wednesday were so bullish on the United States, its hockey program and its potential finish in any upcoming international tournaments.

Especially if that includes participation in the Olympics.

“If you look at what USA Hockey’s done, there’s more people in California than there are in Canada, and so we should as a country be catching up and blowing by people and we are,” said Burke, a longtime NHL executive. “We have been. It’s a coin toss now. You go to any international tournament, you put the U.S. group against the Canadian group, which has always been an underdog, now it’s pretty much a coin toss.

“So that’s a major development in hockey.”

Burke and Langenbrunner were to be inducted into the Hall with former Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown, former U.S. women’s national team forward Katie King Crowley and former official Brian Murphy. Joe Bertagna, who was a college hockey administrator for 40 years, was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

The induction ceremony came a day after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman reiterated plans to hold a four-team, in-season international tournament next season and said that the League continues to work with the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation on participation in the 2026 Milano Cortina Olympics.

“Huge,” Burke said. “I think best on best is the key to ever getting better as a country in any sport. Best on best is the key. That’s the only tournaments I like to watch for scouting purposes.”

Langenbrunner and Brown, who each…

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