The Golden Boys

An Inside Look At The Team Charter That Helped Guide The U.S. National Junior Team To A Gold Medal

The U.S. National Junior Team was in quite the hole during the semifinals of the 2024 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. 

Team USA was trailing Finland, 2-0, at the end of the first period and the team’s gold-medal aspirations were in jeopardy. Many teams could have folded under the pressure. However, captain Rutger McGroarty knew there was no panic for the boys in the red, white and blue. 

In fact, McGroarty was confident his teammates would dig deep, especially after the 25 players all agreed to buy-in to the team charter that began development six months earlier. 

The team’s respect charter, which was completed by the players in December at its camp prior to heading to Sweden for the World Junior Championship, had six principles that every player vowed to agree to during the United States pursuit of a gold medal: 

The charter became the United States fabric and DNA during the World Juniors. 

“We made this charter for a reason,” McGroarty recalled. “There's great points on that, and what we wanted to do and how we were going to win a gold medal. Everyone was so happy the whole time in Sweden with high spirits. Even when we went down 2-0 in the semifinal game. We just relied on that charter. We relied on each other. We just knew that we weren't losing that game.”

Sure enough, the United States rallied for a 3-2 victory against Finland and then went on to defeat host Sweden, 6-2, to win gold in the World Junior's for the sixth time in the country's history. 

Team USA went a dominant 6-1-0-0 (W-OTW-OTL-L) at the World Juniors, and McGroarty said plenty of the team’s success goes back to the team charter.

John Vanbiesbrouck, general manager of the U.S. National Junior Team, settled on the idea of having the U.S. National Junior Team build a respect charter after learning about the topic and connecting with Stan Bowman, who had touched base with Sheldon Kennedy and his Respect Group in 2022. The process was two-fold, starting with a single hour-long session at USA Hockey’s World Junior Summer Showcase in the summer of 2023, which set the stage for two 75-minute sessions during its National Junior Camp in December where the respect charter was imagined and finalized.

To help build the U.S. National Junior Team’s respect charter, Tom Koulentes, a long-time high school principal, along with Bowman served as facilitators for all three sessions and broke the players into small groups and helped guide them in conversations to come up with various phrases or themes that the team should live by and agree to, while also discussing other topics such as bullying, discrimination and harassment. Eventually, the groups presented their ideas and every player voted on 
their favorites.

“The main thing for us was we made it, it was our words,” McGroarty said. “Sometimes it can be overdone if it's just the coaches’ words or one of the higher-ups’ words, but we made it ourselves. Those were the things that we realized we needed to do as a team, on and off the ice, to win a gold medal. How we acted every single day went back to when the guys started the process of building the charter way back in 
the summer.”

There have been plenty of successful teams that have had mottos and philosophies to live by. The difference with the respect charter for the U.S. National Junior Team was that it was created by the players, and for the players, within the locker room. 

“It's in their terminology, which is the key piece,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “It’s organic. It's not what we're saying you need to do. It's their terms. It's something that's unique because it's part team building, it's part culture building, but most of all, it includes everybody. Giving everybody a voice in a room, which can be hard to do when you're collectively trying to accomplish the 
same goal.

“We have a long history of somebody wearing a C, having alternate captains, and expecting them to deliver a message. Now everybody’s a C or an A when building a charter. Over the years, hockey has had a lot of quiet captains, loud captains, indifferent captains. So organically, this allows everybody to speak and be that leader and have difference.”

1. Own It: We hold ourselves and each other responsible and accountable.


2. Energizer Bunny: We channel energy and radiate positive vibes.


3. Gold Standard: We demonstrate excellence in all our actions and in every role.


4. Eat A Pill: We embrace challenges & selflessly protect and support the team.


5. Raise The Flag: We display pride, honor and gratitude as we represent the USA.

6. All In: We fully commit and buy-in to the shared vision and mission. 

David Carle, head coach of the U.S. National Junior Team, said many of the players following the gold-medal game explained to him how special they felt the team’s bond was in Sweden. 

Carle, who is in his sixth season as head coach at the University of Denver, believes the respect charter helped create a “team-first” attitude for 
the group. 

“Any exercise that creates vulnerability and communication and breaks down some barriers and gets the group thinking about what's best for the team is very healthy,” Carle said. “It was great from the standpoint of breaking down walls and barriers and getting the guys to open up and talk. One of the keys to success was how quickly we came together. It’s a huge factor in why we had so much success on the ice. 

“(The charter) was in the locker room, so they got to see it on a daily basis. It was always there as a reminder that they committed to that with 
each other.”

McGroarty believes that he and his teammates will now take what they learned from the team charter and gold medal and apply it the rest of their hockey careers and everyday life, which was something USA Hockey’s leadership group was hopeful for. 

“How long are these lasting principles going to be there for this team? It's a golden memory,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “Yeah, they're the Golden Boys. Gold means so much more than what actual precious gold means because there's no value you can put on winning a championship. You can't buy it. You have to earn those types of achievements.”

McGroarty is now reminded about those principles and what it took to win a gold medal when he gets ready for his classes or practice at the University of Michigan and peers up at his Team USA jersey hanging on his wall at home next to his gold medal.

“You can use these things in your everyday life,” McGroarty, who was drafted 14th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2022 NHL Draft, concluded. “I know I have certain words that I live by, so I feel like if you want to write them down on your mirror or something you see every morning, or something in your room, I feel this is something you can bring into your everyday life.” 

Issue: 
2024-03

Poll

Who is your favorite American player?
Auston Matthews
21%
Jason Robertson
6%
Tage Thompson
10%
Matthew Tkachuk
7%
Patrick Kane
24%
Other
32%
Total votes: 395