ST. LOUIS -- Growing up playing hockey with friends on the streets in his native New Rochelle, New York, St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk remembered emulating United States Olympians of the past.
"You thought about the World Cup (of Hockey) and the (Winter) Olympics, and tried to replay some of those games in the streets and all that kind of stuff," the 24-year-old Shattenkirk told NHL.com, "especially being from New York with the Rangers having that success in the (1990's). Mike Richter was there. He was obviously at the top of his game, so it was a big thing in my neighborhood at least growing up."
And after being invited and taking part in the U.S. Olympic Orientation Camp in Arlington, Va., in late August, Shattenkirk would love nothing more than to represent his country at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia in February and help the U.S. win its first gold medal since the famed 1980 team.
When Shattenkirk was one of 48 fellow Olympian hopefuls to walk into the Kettler Capitals IcePlex and take part in the two-day camp, it was easy to soak in the atmosphere and feel like a dream can perhaps come to fruition.
"It means a lot," Shattenkirk said, "especially coming through the U.S. ranks. I've been playing for the national team (U-17 and U-18 Developmental Programs from 2005-2007) and playing World Juniors (2008-09), and as you go along, you have these goals set for you to play on different USA hockey teams. Once the NHL becomes a reality, you hope the Olympics becomes a reality.
"Just being there is very exciting and very humbling because you're with the best players in the country and that's pretty amazing. It felt great there. … There's a lot of guys there that you played with growing up or against. It's almost like a little reunion of sorts and a good experience."
It's been quite the year for Shattenkirk, who signed his first long-term contract with the Blues (for four years and $17 million). He'll play a prominent role on a team expected to contend for the Stanley Cup and to top it off, the invite came from USA Hockey with a chance to represent his country.
Not a bad year, to say the least.
"It's an exciting year … it really is," Shattenkirk said. "People assume when you sign a contract like that, it's easy to get a little complacent. There's so much opportunity for me this year, for this team, and to make the Olympics and hopefully play there.
"You have to set goals for yourself. You can't think, 'Oh, I have another four years of added time.' … To make the Olympics and obviously with the team that we have in this (Blues) locker room to possibly win a Stanley Cup, to have the chance that we do, we have to grab it."
Shattenkirk, who has 109 points in 201 NHL games with the Blues and Colorado Avalanche and played collegiately for Boston University, echoed what many in the game feel: It's not only an honor to be playing in the NHL, but to even get an opportunity to be an Olympian is just as great or even greater.
"When you think of Olympians, these tremendous athletes have been training for that one moment every four years," Shattenkirk said. "Our approach to it (as hockey players) is a little different.
"To say that you're an Olympian is an accomplishment many people can't say. I think as a whole, it's a tight-knit community and something that everyone that gets there is proud to say they've done it."
Shattenkirk's interest in hockey began when he was three, when he began skating with the full support of his parents Pat and Barbara. It also helped that Shattenkirk's two older brothers, Eric and Keith, were also involved in the game.
It didn't take long for Shattenkirk to take a serious interest in the U.S. hockey team and one particular player helped do it.
"I think for me, it was Brian Leetch growing up," Shattenkirk said of the former Rangers great. "He played on countless U.S. teams … the World Cups of Hockey, the Olympics, starting up in Nagano (Japan). He was someone I always watched, and to be able to watch him and the likes of (Brian) Rafalski, (Mathieu) Schneider, all these tremendous U.S. players … especially them, because those were the years when I think that everyone said the U.S. was one of the strongest teams in the world. So as a young player growing up, it was fun to be able to experience that and watch these guys."
And after watching the 2010 team come so close to winning gold -- the U.S. lost to Canada in overtime of the gold-medal game in Vancouver -- Shattenkirk is hopeful to join a group of defensemen that could perhaps use his smooth puck-moving skills. He's also smart in his own end; not the heaviest of hitters, but makes the right plays and right reads in all three zones.
"He's at his best when he plays reckless," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Shattenkirk. "The more reckless he plays, the better it is. He knows how to get in (the offensive zone) and get out. He's a smart player, but he's got to kind of play with a reckless type of thing where he can't be afraid to join the play because he's got the best read of when to get in and sniffing out danger. When it looks like it's not going to be an odd-man situation, he's got great ability to sniff that out."
Shattenkirk admits the pinnacle for any hockey player would be to win a Stanley Cup or win an Olympic gold medal. But if he had to choose one, it's not an easy call. Should he make the Olympic team when the roster is announced Jan. 1, there exists the possibility of accomplishing both in the same calendar year.
"I think they both kind of go hand-in-hand," Shattenkirk said. "I think to say you won a gold medal would be tremendous. It's something that I've always kind of thought of. Obviously I've always wanted to win a Stanley Cup, but to win a gold medal at the Olympics puts you in a pretty elite class, especially since it comes around not-so-often. It would be nice to get one of those. I wouldn't mind getting them in the same year.
"I've been close to some gold medals growing up and I've yet to win one. I think that's something that I've always had in my mind that I really, really want to get. After you win in international play and you get to hear your anthem, it's special. To win it all, it would be absolutely amazing."
And with many of the U.S. players that were part of the 2010 team that came so close coming back in 2014, there's a bit of unfinished business.
"They shocked the world in 2010," Shattenkirk said. "A lot of people considered them underdogs. I think with a lot of those core players coming back, and you look at some of the leaders that are going to be back on the team, like David (Backes) and the Ryan Suters, Zach Parises … at orientation camp, you knew how proud they were to be on that team, but you also knew that they still had that bad taste in their mouth. When anyone mentioned that silver medal, it was almost taboo. It's nice to have those guys as role models and guys that you're going to follow into the fight."
A fight Shattenkirk hopes to be part of.
"Anyone would tell you they'd just be happy to be there, whether you're going there as an alternate or whatever it may be," Shattenkirk said. "You never know. It could be your last chance to get over there and play.
"It really would be amazing to go over there and experience the whole thing. I know that I would definitely cherish it."
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