- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. — Dustin Brown and Zach Parise were each 14 years old when Derian Hatcher became the first American-born captain to capture the Stanley Cup. That it hadn’t happened before the Dallas Stars in 1999 came as a bit of a surprise to the young New Jersey Devils leader.

And it’s also surprising it hasn’t happened since. But with the Devils and Los Angeles Kings boasting U.S. captains, history will repeat itself when commissioner Gary Bettman presents the Cup at the end of this series.

“This year, of course, there’s going to be another one and then I think there’s going to be more and more,” the Minneapolis-born Parise said Friday. “I just think just the development in the U.S. has been really good as of late in the last 10, 15 years. We’re doing a better job developing players and getting them into the NHL.”

The influx of young American talent in recent years, in conjunction with USA Hockey and its national development program, is undeniable. Brown and Parise, though, were two of three U.S.-born captains in the conference finals, and the leadership growth is becoming more apparent.

“I think a little bit of it’s coincidence. But I think that USA hockey’s done a good job of developing players. The colleges have done a really good job of developing the players,” Parise said. “We do have good young players; we have really good young leaders. It shows with the three captains. That’s a good sign for us.”

And a good sign for the future of hockey and exposure in the United States, giving young players even more to emulate.

“It’s one of those things, this is probably the biggest stage, from a USA Hockey standpoint, other than the Olympics. It’s something you take pride in,” said Brown, who was born in Ithaca, N.Y. “I think American hockey, USA Hockey, is going in the right direction in terms of having more players in the spotlight, so to say.”

Brown and Parise have shared spotlights before, though nothing like this. They began playing together at age 15, and Brown said they got along right away.

But early on in Game 1 of the Cup Final, Brown steamrolled Parise. Hard to have friends this time of the year.

“It doesn’t matter. He’s going to go through anybody he sees with the puck,” Parise said. “That’s just the kind of player he is.”

And it’s the kind of player Parise, is, too: relentless and aggressive. The similarities go beyond being U.S. Olympians and captains.

“I think we both do a lot of the little things right,” Brown said. “He’s probably a little more skilled and I probably have a bigger impact on the game from a physical standpoint.”

But Brown and Parise make impacts on the Kings and Devils, and likely will have a lot to do with charting the course of this series. In the not-too-distant future, the 2014 U.S. Olympic team will be all the better for this run.

To think, the Americans almost won the gold medal in 2010 with a much younger group.

“I think we had a pretty relatively young team there and played really well together,” Parise said. “And you’d assume that just the guys are going to get better and better, so hopefully that means that, if we’re there, we’ll be an even better team the next time around.”

For now, these guys are focused on silver, not gold, and the chance to join Hatcher in some exclusive company by raising the Stanley Cup.

“Have I thought of that?” Brown said. “Yeah I thought about that since I was 4 years old.”

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