Kids dominate USA's Olympic camp
Team USA's 34-man roster includes only five veterans with Olympic experience
GM Brian Burke doesn't expect his young team to medal in Vancouver next Feb.
U.S. won't have time to become an Olympic force if NHL quits Games in 2014
After digging deep into their own pockets to take care of insurance issues raised by the NHLPA, the players attending Team USA's Olympic orientation camp this week won't lose any sleep over long-term injury concerns.
But they still might need night lights and a bed time story.
The three-day camp that opens today in Woodridge, Ill. doesn't represent a simple changing of the guard for American hockey. Outside of a few notable exceptions, this is Logan's Run on ice. If you're over 30, well, it's been nice knowing you.
The 34-boy, er, man roster compiled for this camp by GM Brian Burke and his staff includes just four returnees (Mike Modano, Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski) from the 2006 squad that finished a dismal eighth in Turin. A fifth player, Jamie Langenbrunner, has experience from the 1998 team. Of that group, only the 35-year-old Rafalski is likely to play a major role when the Yanks take on the Swiss at Vancouver's GM Place in the tournament opener next year.
Not that those roles are at stake this week in the suburbs of Chicago. In fact, it's safe to say that no jobs will be won or lost at the camp. The three-day event is geared toward discussing the details of the Olympic tournament and the systems to be employed by the team rather than any kind of selection process. As Burke has said, spots will be earned during the first three months of the season. The guys at camp have no guarantees, and those who aren't there have plenty of time to prove him wrong.
But don't expect too many greybeards to get sized up for a snazzy new team jacket when all is said and done. The absence of American stalwarts like Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight and Brian Rolston and the presence of greenhorns like Patrick Kane, Erik Johnson, T.J. Oshie, Kyle Okposo and Bobby Ryan -- not one of them older than 23 -- offers a clear view of the situation.
Burke may be a master of manipulating the media but he wasn't sandbagging when he said, "There's not going to be a penny bet on us in Vegas." He could assemble a team with the grit, talent and, more importantly, goaltending to surprise anyone who takes them lightly, but the Americans aren't playing to win gold this year.
Sure, stranger things have happened (I still can't figure out why Viktor Tikhonov pulled Vladislav Tretiak after the first period back in 1980), but it would take a miracle of similar proportions for the old guard Yanks just to medal against stacked Canadian and Russian squads and the defending champs from Sweden. Burke knows it.
The truth is this tournament comes at an inopportune moment for the Americans. The heroes of the 1996 World Cup win are too long in the tooth to keep up with the Crosbys and Ovechkins of the world and the next wave isn't quite ready for its close-up. But with talent like the sublime Zach Parise, snipers Phil Kessel (attending camp but not skating after shoulder surgery) and Kane (who finally is scheduled to speak about his cab incident on Monday) as well as unsung winger David Booth, it's just a matter of time before this fast, physical group challenges for a spot on the podium...assuming they're given their chance to develop.
But it's more than simply a matter of turning over the roster. Give Burke credit. He's learned a lesson from Hockey Canada's success at convincing stars to play for the maple leaf on the front of the jersey. If he can get this young group in lockstep, focused on the team concept -- something past American sides haven't always been willing to do -- then this camp and eventually this tournament will serve as stepping stones toward future success.
But even if it's the best call for the American program, it's also a gamble. Though there will be World Cups and World Championships on the international schedule, this may be the end of the line for pro participation in the Winter Olympics. The players would love to take part in the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, but that tournament could feature amateurs unless the NHLPA negotiates for the right to attend as part of the next CBA. Given the clear lack of support from team owners for shutting down the NHL during the heart of the season, the battle could go either way. And if the young Americans get kicked around, the chances of getting the league on board go right out the window.
But Burke can't worry about that. Instead, he and the American staff will focus on cultivating that pack mentality through a pair of brief on-ice sessions and plenty of off-ice interaction because it's absolutely the right approach to take.
He just has to remember not to keep the kids up too late.
The following players were invited to the orientation camp for Team USA. All are expected to be on hand though Kessel is unable to take part in on-ice activities:
DEFENSE: Tom Gilbert (Edmonton), Tim Gleason (Carolina), Ron Hainsey (Atlanta), Erik Johnson (St. Louis), Jack Johnson (Los Angeles), Mike Komisarek (Toronto), Paul Martin (New Jersey), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh), Brian Rafalski (Detroit), Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles), Ryan Suter (Nashville), Ryan Whitney (Anaheim)
FORWARD: David Backes (St. Louis), David Booth (Florida), Dustin Brown (Los Angeles), Dustin Byfuglien (Chicago), Ryan Callahan (NY Rangers), Chris Drury (NY Rangers), Scott Gomez (Montreal), Patrick Kane (Chicago), Ryan Kesler (Vancouver), Phil Kessel (Boston), Jamie Langenbrunner (New Jersey), Ryan Malone (Tampa Bay), Mike Modano (Dallas), Kyle Okposo (NY Islanders), T.J. Oshie (St. Louis), Zach Parise (New Jersey), Joe Pavelski (San Jose), Bobby Ryan (Anaheim), Paul Stastny (Colorado)
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