ARLINGTON, VA. – In 2010, Brian Burke, then general manager of the United States men’s Olympic hockey team, gave his players a great cover.
With the Americans turning the page on the red, white and blue careers of veterans Chris Chelios, Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk and others, Burke called the U.S. a team in transition and thus lowered the expectations in Vancouver.
“I don’t think we’re going to sneak up on anybody this time,” said Burke, the director of player personnel for the 2014 U.S. Olympic men’s team that will compete in Sochi, Russia. “People view the U.S. as a legitimate contender. We’re not going to be able to come in on an invisible cloak.”
Three and half years ago, despite those allegedly small expectations, the Americans won a silver medal after losing to Canada in overtime of the gold-medal game.
“It still hurts,” said Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, whose father, Bob, played on the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” gold medal-winning team. “You come so close, you work so hard, and just like anybody who doesn’t win their last game, you’re disappointed. I don’t think it’ll ever wear off.”
That’s why the Wild’s Zach Parise, who scored that last-minute tying goal to send the U.S. to overtime in the 2010 final, said, “In our eyes, we’re going to Russia to win.”
Parise and Suter are two of 48 Americans who are attending the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey orientation camp. For 2½ days, the Olympic hopefuls — 14 from Minnesota — are going through a system work crash course, off-ice training and officially registering for the Olympics and anti-doping program.
Twenty-five players will make the team, which should be announced in early January.
Parise and Suter are shoo-ins. In fact, GM David Poile (Nashville) and coach Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh) have included Parise and Suter in a leadership group with three NHL captains — St. Louis’ David Backes, Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown and the Rangers’ Ryan Callahan.
The players will be used as a sounding board and all five have a shot at U.S. captain, Bylsma said.
“It’s weird how we’re the older guys here now, because it feels just like a few years ago we were the young guys trying to make a name for ourselves,” Suter said.
Added Parise, “Anytime you’re a captain of any team, it’s always an honor and special thing. But to be captain of the Olympic team would be a whole new level.”
Parise, 29, and Suter, 28, were two integral pieces of the 2010 team. They’ve continued to develop so well, two summers ago they were the two biggest free agents in the NHL and signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts with the Wild. Parise led the Wild in scoring in his first season and Suter was a first-team All-Star and Norris Trophy runner-up.
“Parise’s tenacity is what makes him so special,” Burke said. “And Suter, I don’t know if his pulse goes above 60 during a game. Players around him sense that calmness. He doesn’t get rattled ever.”
Management met for five hours Sunday. The staff includes Penguins GM and associate U.S. GM Ray Shero, Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi and Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon.
Whenever any of the GM’s attend an NHL game next season, they will grade each American player and upload that to a database. Burke and Penguins scout Don Waddell, the former Atlanta Thrashers GM, will act as “bird dogs.”
One Wild player not invited to camp was former Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville. He was born is Canada but has dual citizenship because his mother is American and he played for the U.S. in the 2008 world championships.
Poile said several American forwards on the potential depth chart have their “foot in the door.” But Poile admitted Monday that Pominville “probably should have” been invited to camp. Poile said Pominville’s name has been “put back on the board” and he will be scouted all season.
“If he plays well enough, he’s back in the mix,” Poile said.
Though there are 16 returning Olympians at camp, nobody has been promised a spot.
Poile said every player’s body of work “got them here,” but the most important factor as to which 25 players make the roster will be “what you do in October, November and December.”
“We have some very hard decisions,” Poile said. “We’re not going into Sochi as an underdog. We know every decision we make can determine whether or not we win gold.”