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Thanks to camp, USA hopefuls know what is expected

Wednesday, 08.19.2009 / 3:30 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

"We want to be an aggressive, forechecking team that is going to be on the attack all the time. We don't want to give up possession of the puck and when we don't have it, we want to get it back as quickly as possible. That's generally what we have been talking about for three or four days here."
-- Ron Wilson

WOODRIDGE, Ill. -- Those hoping to glean what Team USA would look like from the three-day Olympic Men's Orientation Camp that wrapped Wednesday afternoon at Seven Bridges Ice Arena were sorely disappointed.

The camp featured an on-ice component each day, but the practices were secondary to the other things that took place behind closed doors. Even Wednesday's longer and more intense practice did little to shed light on how Team USA might look when it reports to Vancouver in February for the 2010 Olympic Tournament.
 
"Practices in August aren't going to win the Olympics," Team USA coach Ron Wilson said. "This is about a mindset and a philosophy."

As a result, there was very little work with lines or in-game strategy. It was more about bringing the 34 players invited here together and allow them to bond through a number of off-ice activities -- like Tuesday night's outing to the Chicago White Sox game and various other team-building exercises.

"I wanted focus on getting a feel for some of the people, planting some ideas and generally getting a mindset out there," Wilson said Wednesday. "We won't know until February if we set their minds straight, but we feel pretty good about ourselves right now."

Wilson also said the message about how the Americans will play was a simple one that the players will have little difficulty grasping:

"We want to be an aggressive, forechecking team that is going to be on the attack all the time. We don't want to give up possession of the puck and when we don't have it, we want to get it back as quickly as possible. That's generally what we have been talking about for three or four days here."

In order to be the team Wilson envisions, Team USA General Manager Brian Burke believes he will have to pick a hybrid team -- not be an all-star team.

"If you look at the course of a hockey game, there are jobs that a player is called upon to perform and some of them aren't glamorous," Burke said in his end-of-camp comments. "You know, winning a key faceoff in your own end, killing a penalty or blocking a shot at a key time. These are things that we are going to need to be successful. My assessment hasn't changed. We can't take the 23 best players. We have to take the 23 players that can perform specific tasks at high levels -- even if that is a grunt task or a blue-collar task.

As usual, Burke had a rather colorful analogy to drive home his point.

"You go to a symphony orchestra and the first violin is elegant and there is a spotlight on her and she is in the front row and then there's a guy like me in the back row blowing on a tuba," he explained to loud laughter. "They don't start the show until we both sit down. And when we're done, someone moves the stage.

"If you look at successful teams, championship teams, they've got blue-collar people that do blue-collar jobs with exceptional skill and dedication and that is going to be key for us."

With that said, it is clear that versatility will be a key when selecting the team. For that reason, Burke spent some time touting some of the working-class players on hand.

He pointed to Chicago forward Dustin Byfuglien and said he was valuable because he also can play defense. With Burke insisting that he wants to carry eight defensemen, Byfuglien becomes an ideal candidate to fill the No. 8 defenseman spot.

Burke also talked up the candidacy of players like Chris Drury of the New York Rangers, Los Angeles' Dustin Brown and St. Louis' David Backes. Backes plays the wing and center, while Brown and Drury are capable of being top-six forwards while also moving down and performing bottom-two line duties.

And the Americans' bottom-six forwards closely will resemble an NHL bottom-six configuration. There will be a checking line and the team also will deploy some skill-specific forwards, whether it is penalty killers, big hitters or shut-down specialists.

"In a tournament like this, with some of the high-end players on the teams we are going to play, you need some big bodies that can grind people down, not get scored on and run the clock down," Burke said. "We need some people that can do that and we want to make sure that people understand there are roles for those players on the team."
"We're here to work hard but also have fun. Obviously, the start of the (NHL) season is huge for all of us. We want to get off on the right foot and contribute to our teams." - Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek
Like Wilson said, it will not be clear if the message got across until the season starts and the players campaign for spots on the team with their play during the first half of the 2009-10 NHL season. However, it appears the messages Burke and Wilson were trying to deliver to the players during this four-day camp were received loud and clear.

"You want to come here and make a good first impression," Toronto defenseman Mike Komisarek said. "We're here to work hard but also have fun. Obviously, the start of the (NHL) season is huge for all of us. We want to get off on the right foot and contribute to our teams.

"It was a goal to come to this camp. It's something I have been looking forward to all summer and training hard for. Now, the biggest thing is to have a good (NHL training) camp and great start to the regular season and hopefully get picked for this team."