St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong believes representing your country on an international scale is one thing, but being able to share the spotlight with other tremendously talented athletes will also provide lasting memories of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Armstrong, associate director of player personnel for Canada at this year's Olympics, said that's something he really took away from the 2010 Vancouver Games.
"You get to see what type of commitment these people have made and what type of sacrifices they had to make to be there," Armstrong told NHL.com. "I think it humbles you on the Olympic experience because some of the people competing had families that mortgaged homes just to be able to participate."
Armstrong is proud of the fact 10 players from the Blues, representing six countries, will be headed to Russia for the Winter Games, Feb. 9-25.
"Sending 10 players to Sochi is great in the sense that when you look at the players selected, the pro scouts have played a part via the trades that might have been made, and by the amateur scouts, who helped draft and groom some players," Armstrong said. "I think whether you look at our minor league coaches or NHL coaches, it's a feather in the cap of the whole player recruitment area of our team."
David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk will don the red, white and blue for the United States; Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester will serve Canada; Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund will play for Sweden; Vladimir Tarasenko for host Russia; Jaroslav Halak will play for Slovakia; and Vladimir Sobotka for the Czech Republic.
"We're really excited to have players there, and I think it's going to be great for us in the long term to have these guys experience this high level of hockey and competition," Armstrong said.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked what benefit the tournament will have for the first-time Olympians.
"When you get a chance to play in a big game, it only helps because for a lot of the players on our team, this is the first time where they have to be comfortable being really uncomfortable," Hitchcock said. "I think, at the end of the day, that will do nothing but help them."
Backes, Halak and Bouwmeester will be playing in their second Olympic Games. Backes won a silver medal for the United States in 2010. Halak participated in 2010 for Slovakia, which lost to Canada in the semifinal round and then Finland in the bronze medal game. Bouwmeester played for Canada at the 2006 Torino Games and lost to Russia in the quarterfinal round.
"NHL players live a different lifestyle than the bobsledders," Armstrong said. "I believe the greatest thing our [St. Louis Blues] players will get out of the Olympic experience is what it means to non-professional athletes. The dedication and commitment is extraordinary."
Armstrong feels that while Canada's management team is excited about their entry of players on the Olympic roster, nothing will come easy.
"Our pool may be deeper than some of the other countries, but the top-end talent of those other countries is equal to ours," Armstrong said. "We're excited to go to Russia to defend a gold medal that the guys deservedly earned last time. I know that there are some new players in our group that haven't experienced this, so it'll be a great ride for them."
Armstrong said that while he anticipates Canada to be mentioned in the same sentence of teams expected to compete for a gold medal, nothing will be taken for granted.
"Not when you're going against a host Russia team that has so many talented players, or the U.S. and Sweden," he said. "Remember the World Junior tournament [in Malmo, Sweden]? I like to call [gold medalist Finland] the little engine that could. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Finns made some serious noise at the Olympics as well."
Finland scored a stunning 3-2 victory against Sweden in the gold medal game at the 2014 WJC.
"I'm excited about our team, but know it'll be a really good [Olympic] tournament, just as our players and coaches also know," Armstrong said.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
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