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Sochi Helps Stepan Elevate His Game

By Harry Thompson - Editor, USA Hockey Magazine, 09/18/16, 3:00PM EDT


New York Rangers forward blossoming under bright lights

TORONTO -- When you play in New York it's almost impossible not to be well versed in Yogisms, those colorful cliches made famous by legendary Yankees Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra.

As a member of the Broadway Blueshirts, Derek Stepan has taken a page from the playbook of the pinstriped poet to help move his career forward.

"You can observe a lot by just watching," is one Yogism that encapsulates Stepan's rise up the hockey ranks.

Selected as the 13th forward with the U.S. Team at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Stepan spent most of his time watching from the press box while his teammates skated to a fourth-place finish.

"I really enjoyed my time in Sochi and was able to pick up on some things by watching my teammates," said Stepan, who only saw brief action in one preliminary round contest.

"I was kind of that extra forward so I was able to see things from a little further away. I was able to pick up on some of the things that elite players do and incorporate into my own game.

"I wish I was able to get some more time with these guys on the ice, but I took a lot from that experience and will try to use that this time around."

The former University of Wisconsin Badger has proven to be a good student, bringing the lessons learned in Sochi back to Broadway where he had a career year last season with 22 goals.

Fast forward two years to the World Cup of Hockey where the 26-year-old is more than just an extra forward. He is a vital cog in the U.S. offensive attack playing on a line with James van Riemsdyk and Patrick Kane.

The key to playing with a superstar of Kane's magnitude, Stepan said, is to stick with what got you to this point.

"When you play with him, as difficult as it is, you have to play your normal game," Stepan said. "It's hard because you want to try to get the puck to him as much as possible because he's such an elite player."

Over the course of run up to the tournament, Kane has encouraged his linemate to stay true to his own style of play.

"His message to me is to make sure I'm still making my plays when I get the puck."

The Hastings, Minn., native took that advice to heart in the exhibition games where he led the team in scoring.

Playing on Team USA at the World Cup has also allowed Stepan to be reunited with John Carlson and Kyle Palmieri, two fellow members of the U.S. National Junior Team that won gold at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship. That international experience and familiarity with each other could pay big dividends as the U.S. prepares to face Canada on Tuesday.

And while Stepan's line was kept off the scoreboard in Team USA's 3-0 loss to Team Europe on Saturday, they did manage to generate several chances. Their best effort came on the power play in the second period when the puck caromed off Stepan's head and into the net. After review it was determined that van Riemsdyk directed the puck with his body.

"We're down 2-0 at that point and we get a power play opportunity and the puck found its into the back of the net. It is disallowed and they come back and score right away, Stepan said. "Momentum swings and flows in the game are big."

Team USA head coach John Tortorella was slightly less diplomatic.

"No matter what JVR did, it hits Steph's helmet before it goes into the net, so I thought it should be a goal," Tortorella said.

It was a reversal of fortunes at a crucial point in the game. Now, with a do-or-die game against the Canadians coming up on Tuesday, the Americans will be banking on Stepan's line to lead the way as they face an uphill climb.

When it comes to Team USA's title hopes at the World Cup, it's like Yogi said, "It gets late early out here."

World Cup News

Team USA Schedule & Results

Date Opponent/Event Location Result
Fri, Sept. 9 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Columbus, OH (Nationwide) W, 4-2
Sat., Sept. 10 Canada (Pre-Tourn.) Ottawa, Ont. L, 2-5
Tues., Sept. 13 Finland (Pre-Tourn.) Washington, D.C. (Verizon) W, 3-2
Sat., Sept. 17 Team Europe Toronto (ACC) L, 0-3
Tues., Sept. 20 Canada Toronto (ACC) L, 2-4
Thurs., Sept. 22 Czech Republic Toronto (ACC) L, 3-4

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