Good day from the Washington Capitals’ practice facility in Arlington, Va., where today 48 Americans, including the Wild’s Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, took part in the first full day of the 2 ½ day U.S. Olympic men’s hockey orientation camp.
Just a reminder, I will be appearing at the Star Tribune booth at the State Fair on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. with Chuck Fletcher. Have a question for the Wild GM, plea
se stop by.
As for the U.S. camp, there are 16 returning Olympic hopefuls here. There are 14 players from Minnesota – double the next highest state (Michigan, 7). Those players are Parise, defensemen Dustin Byfuglien, Justin Faulk, Jake Gardiner, Erik Johnson, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin and Ryan McDonagh and forwards David Backes, Nick Bjugstad, Kyle Okposo, T.J. Oshie, Derek Stepan and Blake Wheeler.
Minnetonka's own Jake Gardiner (above)
Former Wild coach Todd Richards of Crystal, Minn., is also one of coach Dan Bylsma’s assistants. Bylsma was Richards’ assistant when he coached Wilkes-Barre. Remember, Richards left Wilkes-Barre in 2008 to become assistant coach in San Jose. If he hadn’t, it’s very likely Richards would have replaced Michel Therrien as Pittsburgh’s coach that season instead of Bylsma. Bylsma ended up coaching the Pens to the Stanley Cup that 2008-09 season and Richards wound up become Minnesota’s second-ever coach that June.
I’ll write about Richards and some of the Minnesotan players for Wednesday’s paper. The official Nike jersey will be unveiled by all 48 players Tuesday as well.
For Tuesday’s paper, I wrote about Parise and Suter being included in a five-player leadership group, which includes three NHL captains – St. Louis’ David Backes (Spring Lake Park High), Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown and the Rangers’ Ryan Callahan.
You can read Parise and Suter’s comments on that in Tuesday’s paper and Backes’ in Wednesday.
Also, in Tuesday’s paper, I talked to GM David Poile about the decision by the United States of not inviting the Wild’s Jason Pominville to camp. Pominville, who typically hits the 20- or even 30-goal mark, was born in Canada but has dual citizenship.
Poile said today that Pominville “probably should have” been invited to camp. Poile said Pominville’s name came up Sunday during a five-hour meeting with management and he has been “put back on the board,” meaning he will be scouted all season.
“If he plays well enough, he’s back in the mix,” Poile said, although he added that the big reason why Pominville wasn’t included is that there are just several forwards on the potential depth chart with their “foot in the door.” That likely means, at a minimum, guys like Parise, Brown, Backes, Callahan, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel and Bobby Ryan.
Remember, only 25 players can make the team and only 20 skaters can dress per game, and seven or eight of those will be defensemen.
So while it’s probably still a longshot for Pominville to make the team, he is back on the U.S. radar and if he has a terrific October, November and December for the Wild, he’ll put himself in position to make this arguable snub look like a true oversight.
Weird dynamic in camp because the players are not taking the ice due to prohibitive costs to insure the player contracts. Finland actually canceled its camp. Team Canada is in Calgary right now and their players aren’t hitting the ice either (although coach Mike Babcock put the players through ball hockey instruction today to walk through systems and get used to spacing on an international ice surface that will be 15 feet wider than an NHL rink).
This morning at the U.S. camp, players went through system tutorial like D-zone, neutral zone and forechecks.
“We’ll all go our own way and re-learn our own team’s stuff, but they just want to plant a seed and give us an idea at least of what to expect,” Parise said. “It would have been nice to go on the ice and at least have a visual and walk through. But nobody else is doing it, so it’s not like we’re behind.”
Like I said though, weird dynamic because how much will actually be retained. After these 2 ½ days (camp ends Wednesday and includes team dinners, a Nationals game Tuesday, a public day Tuesday, registering for the Olympics and anti-doping program, etc.), players will go back to their own teams for six months. They’ll report in February, charter to Russia, go over video on the plane, have one practice and hit the ice vs. Slovakia on Feb. 13. The Americans are in a pool with host Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia (Anze Kopitar!!!).
But as Bylsma said today, this isn’t “comfortable” as a coach.
A big theme today was the fact that the Americans are going to Russia to win. They’re not underdogs like 2010. They’ve medaled in every major tournament recently. It’s to the point that the U.S. expects big things when it goes to these tournaments (just ask guys like Phil Housley, Grant Potulny, Mario Lucia and Mikey Reilly, who won gold at the last world juniors).
“If I go back, winning a silver medal, there’s something special about it but I didn’t feel special about it for a long time,” said Edina’s Brian Burke, the 2010 GM who is the 2014 director of player personnel. “When you win a bronze medal, you win, the other team leaves and you get your medal. When you win a silver medal, you have to watch the other team get their gold medal, and that’s hard.”
The U.S. wants to win gold this time around. A big theme was also the fact that the U.S. with NHLers didn’t medal in Nagano or Torino but did in Salt Lake City and Vancouver. In other words, they have to come up with a team that can compete on the bigger ice. That will go into how the staff assembles this team. So that could really open the door potentially for skaters, like for instance, Gardiner and Leddy.
“I don’t want to overplay it as a huge, huge factor,” Poile said. “It’s something we have to adapt to.”
I flew here yesterday on the same flight with Backes. As always, he’s just a great dude and quote machine, and that was the case again today. I’ll have a lot from him in Wednesday’s paper, but here’s a few subjects:
He was great on what it will be like to play Parise and Suter in the same division this year and then put the red, white and blue sweater on together in February.
“We’ll see Suter and Parise five times this year knowing we’re going to be teammates at some point,” Backes said. “We’re not going to take it easy on each other. We’re probably going to scuffle a little bit, like me and Dustin Brown, who play the same style and always seem to run into each other full speed five times a game trying to knock the other’s head off. But after the game you shake a guy’s hand and then become teammates with them. It adds that element of respect. ‘I know how hard it is to play against you. If we can combine our efforts, we can make one heck of a team. Let’s combine forces.’”
Also, Backes addressed Russia’s anti-gay law, where technically homosexual athletes could be arrested in Russia during the Olympics: “The position of USA Hockey is hockey is for everyone. As an American who believes in the freedoms that we have and the way we run our society and culture, everyone has their right to participate in sports or live their lifestyle the way they want. I’m supportive of anyone. We had our first gay basketball professional athlete come out this year and my stance was then and is now that anyone is welcome in my locker room with the St. Louis Blues that lives that lifestyle. I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, purple, gold, what you think, as long as your committed to the team aspect and the way that we’re playing, you’re always welcome on my team. I think the guys on this team would all agree that we’re going over there to play a great sport, but we don’t have to agree with everything they do and they don’t have to agree with everything we do. We have our views. You’d like to think that the Olympics are apolitical, but I think you’ve seen in history, they’re not. There’s always some underlying themes that seem to come up. That being said, it’s sport at its purest. It’s always been. The political stuff kind of gets dragged in there. Unfortunately, it does, but we’re there to participate in hopefully what’s going to be a phenomenal Olympic games put on by the Russian Federation.