Our Golden Triangle has some company on this fine Saturday morning.
John Gibson (Whitehall), Vince Trocheck (Upper St. Clair), J.T. Miller (Coraopolis) and Riley Barber (Washington) will return to North American – and at some point their friends and family throughout Western Pennsylvania – with gold medals from the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
This is a big deal.
With three IIFH World Junior wins since 2004, a victory at arguably hockey’s second toughest tournament is no longer a shock or even a surprise for USA Hockey.
Still, for four prospects from Pittsburgh to play such pivotal roles is a testament to the caliber of hockey that is being coached and played in this region.
Gibson allowed only nine goals in seven games, earning top goalie and MVP honors for the tournament. His .955 save percentage was the best ever for an American goalie at the World Junior Tournament.
Miller, a natural winger, shifted to center and anchored a top line. His hockey aptitude was on full display as he grew into the role, and his composure was on particular display in the gold-medal win Saturday against Sweden.
Phil Housley, a former standout NHL defenseman and Olympian, lauded Miller’s leadership after the Sweden win.
Not a bad first-time head coaching stint for Housley, by the way.
Trocheck and Barber were solid and smart throughout, helping the Americans with quick transition and setting up offense when the opportunity was there. Trocheck’s empty-net goal sealed the win and should be historically remembered as a great Pittsburgh sports memory.
There is no comparable to having four local prospects on the planet’s finest junior hockey team.
But, consider if four Pittsburgh football players were among the 22 top college football recruits, how big of a story would that be in these parts?
Local hockey has advanced because of improved coaching, increased numbers of rinks and record participation.
Mario Lemieux deserves credit, because Pittsburgh would not have an NHL team, and thus would not be a burgeoning hockey town at the youngest level, if not for his arrival in 1984, or his purchase of the Penguins in 1999.
The Penguins deserve credit, too. Especially since Sidney Crosby’s NHL debut in 2005, the Penguins, led by CEO David Morehouse, have put their considerable resources behind building the game at the youth levels.
That has led to Pittsburghers playing college hockey, being selected in NHL drafts, and on this Saturday morning, starring on the world stage.
It is a great day for hockey around here, indeed.
Here is hoping former Penguins coaches and American hockey icons “Badger” Bob Johnson and Herb Brooks are sharing a smile somewhere near that big rink above.