The first round of those decisions was announced Tuesday when USA Hockey revealed 34 players representing 22 NHL teams have been invited to participate in the 2010 U.S. Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Orientation Camp next month.
The camp, which runs from Aug. 17-19 at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, will not yield any results. It is merely an event designed to assist Team USA's executive and coaching staffs in preparation for the big tournament in B.C.
Team USA General Manager Brian Burke stressed that an extra 50 players will be put into an anti-doping program to give USA Hockey at least 84 candidates for the 23-man roster it will ice at the 2010 Winter Games. But the players invited to the orientation camp, including 19 forwards, 12 defensemen and three goalies, certainly do have the upper hand in landing a spot on the final roster that will be announced sometime in late December.
"We want that group tighter and we want the group to feel some kinship with the management team and the coaching staff," Burke said of what he hopes to gain from the orientation camp. "If we do our job the entire team will come out of this camp, but my suspicion, knowing how competitive these athletes are, that's not going to be the case."
Burke said he and his seven-person management team wanted to keep the number of invitees to around 30, but came up with 34 because eliminating some players became too hard to do.
Of the group of invitees, only Mike Modano is from the old guard of USA Hockey "warriors," as Burke calls them. Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Chris Chelios, Brian Rolston and Doug Weight all fit into that category, but were not invited.
Burke said all of the veterans are still in play for the final roster, but Modano, the NHL's all-time leading American-born scorer, got the invite because he has shown a chameleon-like ability to adapt to his ever-changing role with the Dallas Stars.
"If you look at the evolution of the Dallas hockey club, Mike Modano has been asked to accept an increasingly defensive role and he's the all-time leading scorer among American players," Burke said. "Mike's production has fallen off, but his usefulness as a player has not. It's just that his role has changed and he's accepted that."
Only five of the invitees have competed in the Olympics before, including Modano (1998, 2002, 2006), Chris Drury (2002, 2006), Scott Gomez (2006), Brian Rafalski (2002, 2006) and Jamie Langenbrunner (1998).
"We went through and looked at the playoff experience of the group and the leadership situations and the pressure situations and we're satisfied," Burke said. "The goal has to be to take the most competitive group of athletes and trust that your leadership will deliver."
Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins headlines the goalies picked for the camp. Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick were also invited. Not on the list of invitees is oft-injured New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, who was on the 2006 Olympic roster but missed almost all of 2008-09 with injuries.
Of the former Olympians Burke did reach, including Guerin and Tkachuk, he said the response was unified.
"They all said the same thing: 'I understand,' " Burke said. "These guys have had their day in the sun and we are not closing any doors here. These guys are very much alive."
Youth, though, rules in USA Hockey these days and it's evident in the list of invitees. Half of the invitees are 24 or younger. The only 30 year olds in the group are Modano, Thomas, Rafalski, Langenbrunner, Drury and Rob Scuderi.
Chicago's Kane is the youngest player invited, but not by much. New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo and St. Louis defenseman Erik Johnson, who missed all of the 2008-09 season with a knee injury, also have 1988 birthdays.
Burke said Johnson was invited because of "what we know of the player and what we know he can be." Phil Kessel is still 21 and T.J. Oshie, Bobby Ryan and Jack Johnson are all only 22. Quick and Paul Stastny are 23 while David Booth, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Ryan Kesler, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski and Ryan Suter are all 24.
"We're turning the page to a large extent," Burke said.
Burke is prepared for Team USA to be the youngest in the field at the Olympics, but he believes the 34 invitees offer a wide range of versatility, including size, speed, toughness and scoring touch that will allow Team USA to battle for gold.
"We tried to identify people that can perform certain tasks on a hockey team," he said. "We have some first violins and some tuba players, too. We're happy with the group."
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