Regular season to play key role in picking U.S. team

Tuesday, 07.23.2013 / 1:39 PM
Adam Kimelman  - Deputy Managing Editor

USA Hockey will have 48 players at its orientation camp Aug. 26-27 in Arlington, Va., which will serve as the first step to picking the players who will represent the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

But according to David Poile, the team's general manager, the real work starts in October.

"The evaluations we're going to be making are going to be mostly in October, November and December," Poile said during a conference call Tuesday. "We believe in the body of work that these players have done to this point to get an invitation to this training camp, but our evaluation will be done during the regular season. … I assure you that we are going to make our decisions based on who's playing best and who deserves to be on our team. Our scouting component with our committee and what we see in October, November and the first part of December will be the most important aspects in making final decisions.

"Just because a player is not at this camp, that does not mean he won't make the Olympic team. And conversely, just because you're at this camp doesn't mean you'll make the Olympic team."

The orientation camp will be two days, and there will be no on-ice component due to the high cost of insuring the players. Instead, most of the time will be spent educating the players on all the different aspects that go into being part of the Olympics, from the layout of the facilities to travel arrangements for the players and their families to the drug-testing and registration programs.

In addition, the players will spend time getting to know the coaches, management and staff, have team-building exercises, and spend time with area youth hockey groups.

"This is a chance for all of us to get together, to get to know each other a little bit better, to introduce the coaching staff, for the coaches to get in front of [the players] a fair bit," Poile said.

The real work will come when the games start for the 2013-14 NHL regular season. At that point, everything becomes equal and the best players will head to Sochi.

That could include a number of young players. The camp roster includes four players over 30, with 33-year-old Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres the oldest invited, but five players 20 or younger: Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson and Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad are 20, Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba and Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk are 19, and Nashville Predators defenseman Seth Jones is the youngest player in the camp at 18.

"We're looking a little bit to the future," Poile said. "We have a future component to this camp that we didn't have in 2010. I'm really pleased with the depth and quality [of players] that we have. For sure our eyes are on 2014, but we also have a little bit of an eye on the future when we invite these younger players."

Also invited to the camp were 16 players from the 2010 Olympic team that won the silver medal in Vancouver, and though there's no guarantee all 16 will be on the team for Sochi, Poile said he does expect a few to play major roles in 2014, among them Minnesota Wild teammates Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

"In 2010 when Brian Burke and myself and our committee put the team together, this was the big change from previous Olympic teams, the end of what we called the great era in USA hockey," Poile said. "The [Keith] Tkachuks, the Brett Hulls, [Chris] Chelios, [Mike] Richter, [Mike] Modano, there were none of those guys on the team. We talked and we had our fingers crossed that players like Ryan Suter and Zach Parise could take the torch from these guys and be the next great generation of USA players, and that's happened. Getting a silver medal in Vancouver certainly represents a certain degree of success for these younger players. Now they're in a position where they should be our best players and our leaders and we're counting on them to do that. Arguably, Ryan Suter should be our best defenseman and Zach Parise could be our best forward. We think the world of them and we're counting on them both on and off the ice to be our best players."

Another player who will be counted on heavily is Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who also played a significant role four years ago in Vancouver.

"Patrick Kane is obviously one of our best players," Poile said. "The only player who has won two Stanley Cups, won a Conn Smythe Trophy [and] that speaks a lot for Patrick Kane. We're looking for him to be a top player, make big plays, score big goals -- the usual from Patrick Kane. Like I said about Zach Parise, if we're going to have any success in Sochi, it's going to be players like Parise and Patrick Kane that are going to have to lead the way."

Success in Sochi also would buck a trend for the U.S. In four previous Olympics using NHL players, the Americans have won a silver medal in 2002 in Salt Lake City and 2010 in Vancouver. But when the games were held on foreign soil -- 1998 in Nagano, Japan, and 2006 in Turin, Italy -- the U.S. failed to medal.

Poile said it's something he's aware of, and the reasoning could go beyond the fact the games outside North America are played on the wider international ice surface.

"This is the big question probably for both Canada and the U.S.," Poile said. "'Why have we not had more success over there?' The North American players play a different type of game than European players. They grew up playing a different style, they grew up on a different-size ice surface. Having said that, I believe we can win, and I'm sure Canada feels the same way. So what do we need to change? I don't have those answers right now."

Poile said he has a few ideas, and some of them can be seen in the list of players invited to the orientation camp -- and those not invited.

"[Assistant GM] Ray Shero and I are going to talk to former Olympians, guys who have played in Europe both in the World Championships and in the last two Olympics to see what the USA did good and what we might not have done so good and what kind of changes we can make as far as our player selection," he said. "I think it's shown in the numbers that we've invited to the camp and the type of players that we invited, and the type of players left off the list. … When we make our final decisions and we choose Player A over Player B, it's going to be because we think he can be successful in Sochi, he can be successful in Europe, and it might be a different choice than we made in Vancouver."

Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK

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