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Burke eager to finalize American Olympian roster

Monday, 12.07.2009 / 4:11 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

"We've got tough calls at every position and Jan 1 is going to be a bittersweet day for our players. We'll have 23 ecstatic players and some disappointed players, but that's only because the pool has increased in depth and width. We have more players and better players to choose from. We don't have the big-name recognition like we did at the 1996 World Cup, but we do have what we feel is a deeper and broader pool than ever before." -- Brian Burke

Brian Burke is hoping for a perfect world.

Or, more specifically, to have all 23 players headed to Vancouver for Team USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics named by Dec. 16 when his managerial staff congregates one final time at the NHL Board of Governor's meetings in Pebble Beach, Calif.

"We've been rating all the American players," Team USA's general manager said during a USA Hockey conference call . "Our last meeting was in Toronto at the NHL General Manager's meetings (Nov. 11-12) and we'll meet again Pebble Beach (Dec. 15-16). At that point, we hope to be down to 2-3 decisions as far as our roster -- if any at all.
 
"The ideal world is, after meeting in Pebble Beach, we've got our team picked and then we'll go to Fenway Park (on Jan. 1 for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic) to announce it."

And what if the final roster isn't established by Dec. 16?

"If we have a last-minute decision, we'll chase the players and scout the players," Burke said. "We've all kept time open in our schedules to do that."

In the meantime, Burke, who was joined on the call by Team USA head coach Ron Wilson and Women's Olympic coach, Mark Johnson, and GM Michele Amidon, admitted he and his staff have some very difficult decisions between now and then.

"We've got tough calls at every position and Jan 1 is going to be a bittersweet day for our players," Burke said. "We'll have 23 ecstatic players and some disappointed players, but that's only because the pool has increased in depth and width. We have more players and better players to choose from. We don't have the big-name recognition like we did at the 1996 World Cup, but we do have what we feel is a deeper and broader pool than ever before."

Wilson was coach of the U.S. national team that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. He's excited to be working the bench with assistants John Tortorella and Scott Gordon in the 2010 Olympics.

"We're all on the same page with regard to the type of team that we'd like to be," Wilson said. "We want to play a fast, aggressive, forechecking style that tries to get the puck and control the puck all the time. Our three styles kind of mesh if you watch our teams play in the NHL. The Rangers, Islanders and Maple Leafs are known for their aggressive, fore-checking styles and, we hope, in the few days we have with the team before the games, we're able to solidify that style of play and execute it on the ice."

While Burke refused to offer any insight into players already penciled in on the roster, he did offer a few subtle hints.

"We've put some exciting young players in the League the last 3-4 years --- the Kessels and Kanes of the world," Burke said. "We've got some grizzled veterans who have participated and competed -- the Tkachuks, Modanos and Guerins. We have to figure out what the balance is. We're not closing the door on that (older) generation, but we're not promising anything either. If it's time to turn the page, we're prepared to do that."

Wilson admitted that getting systems in order and in check are imperative in the early stages of the Olympic tournament.

"If you can do that in a short period of time, you have a chance," Wilson said. "Any of the coaches in this tournament would say the most important thing is that your goalie is playing well right off the bat -- that could solve any problems you have in other areas of your game."

Wilson was then asked how impressed he's been with Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller.

"I've been very impressed with Ryan," Wilson said.
"We've put some exciting young players in the League the last 3-4 years --- the Kessels and Kanes of the world. We've got some grizzled veterans who have participated and competed -- the Tkachuks, Modanos and Guerins. We have to figure out what the balance is. We're not closing the door on that (older) generation, but we're not promising anything either. If it's time to turn the page, we're prepared to do that." -- Brian Burke
"We've been too impressed with Ryan Miller," Burke interrupted.

Wilson then continued, "Yeah, they're killing him in Buffalo. I think they should rest him, especially when they play Toronto, but he single-handedly beat us twice."

Wilson, who also lauded forward Ryan Kesler when inquired about the Vancouver forward, is the head coach for the Maple Leafs and Burke is the team's general manager.

Wilson said he plans on handing out a video playbook to get everyone up to speed on the game plan entering Vancouver.

"It's going to be difficult considering we'll probably have just one practice before we begin play, but my job is to communicate the best I can with every player what we're going to try," Wilson said. "The video playbook will highlight different things we expect (and attempted in) prior World Championships. But, even more, showing the forechecking, neutral and defensive-zone situations from our own games, in order to give the guys a general idea."

Burke has every intention of immediately contacting any player dropped from the initial Olympic camp roster that was released in August.

"I'm going to make sure I call the ones that don't make it, first," Burke said. "We've had a generation of players who have represented our country with great ferocity and have answered the bell every time. To steal a line from (television journalist) Tom Brokaw, 'This was our greatest generation as far as what's been accomplished the last 15 years' by that group of the Leetchs', the Chelios', the Amontes' and on an on.

"Some of the guys who have carried that torch will not be involved and my primary goal on Jan. 1 is to make sure I reach the group that's not going to be included," he said. "I can live with the other guys learning about it watching on TV, but I couldn't live with the guy excluded from the team learning about it that way."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com