Gold medals are one of the most difficult, and rewarding, accomplishments a team can earn. At international tournaments, the team is assembled quickly, teammates learn names with the same frequency as coaching systems, and a team may only have a handful of days between games to iron out small wrinkles that are crucial to finding overall tournament success.
A preliminary loss doesn’t equate to failure, and just as important, a preliminary win doesn’t equate to gold. The team needs to constantly grow throughout a tournament, and ideally, is the hottest team heading into elimination and medal-round games.
Every small detail, from training camps to optional skates, lays a foundation for a team’s success. This year’s gold-medal U.S. National Junior Team was no exception. In a tournament filled with future NHL talent across all nations, the U.S. looked for an advantage by establishing a team identity, and bonding off the ice. Head coach Nate Leaman (East Greenwich, R.I.) looked to pull upon his experience at the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship, and sent an inspirational message on Dec. 19 following the mandatory isolation quarantine that would set the tone over the next three weeks: “One Barrel at a Time.”
The saying, taken from Eat That Frog, would be a reminder that no matter the highs and lows, the team would only focus on their next opponent. When media asked about games ahead in the schedule or the team’s loss to Russia in the preliminary round, players fell back on Leaman’s message to take things, “one barrel at a time.” That rally cry turned into a physical barrel inside the locker room that the team posed with after each win.
More information about the original Focus story sent to the team, and how the players embraced the now infamous blue barrel can be found below:
Appeared in Team USA daily team communication on Dec. 19, 2020.
Many years ago, I crossed the heart of the Sahara Desert, the Tanezrouft, deep in modern-day Algeria. By that time, the desert had been abandoned by the French for years and the original refueling stations were empty and shuttered.
The desert was five-hundred miles across in a single stretch, without water, food, a blade of grass, or even a fly. It was totally flat, like a broad, yellow, sand parking lot that stretched the horizon in all directions.
More than 1,300 people had perished in the crossing of that stretch of the Sahara in previous years. Often, drifting sands had obliterated the track across the desert and travelers had gotten lost in the night.
To counter the lack of features in the terrain, the French had marked the track with black, fifty-five gallon oil drums, five kilometers apart, exactly the distance to the horizon, where the earth curved away as you crossed that flat wasteland.
Because of this, wherever we were in the daytime, we could see two oil barrels, the one we had just passed and the one five kilometers ahead. And that was enough.
All we had to do was to steer towards the next oil barrel. As a result, we were able to cross the biggest desert in the world by simply taking it "one barrel at a time."