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Burke dismisses Team USA leadership questions

Monday, 01.04.2010 / 4:43 PM / All-Access Vancouver

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

Brian Burke and his managerial staff for Team USA don't believe their club is short on leaders despite the fact this happens to be the youngest group of Americans headed to the Winter Olympics since NHL players were introduced to the Games.

In fact, Burke, who in the fall of 2008 began evaluating the Americans he would ultimately choose to represent his squad in Vancouver, felt leadership was something he and his staff spent plenty of time debating.

"When you assemble a team, especially for a short-term tournament, leadership is critical," Burke told the media during a conference call Monday. "We spent a lot of time on this. We discussed the type of player; what role he might have, is he a Type A or Type B personality. Is he wearing a letter now? Has he worn a letter on the US Team before? These are all things we talked about in great, great detail and at great length.

"In my mind we've got several guys who have demonstrated leadership at the NHL level and in international competition before and I'm comfortable with that part of our group."

During the announcement of the U.S. Olympic Team in Boston on New Year's Day, Burke did single out forwards Jamie Langenbrunner and Chris Drury as potential leaders. Team USA head coach Ron Wilson and Burke will assign a captain at a later date.

"Ron (Wilson) and I are both big believers that leaders lead regardless of whether you acknowledge them with a letter or not," Burke said.

Still, at an average age of 26.5, there's no question this American team is also screaming for some younger stars to step into a leadership role. Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown and New Jersey Devils alternate captain Zach Parise, both 25, come to mind.

"It's frightening how efficient (Parise) is as a player -- putting up those numbers (at even strength) and being defensively reliable," Burke said. "It's obviously a trademark of Jersey's system. We're counting on the same type of performance from him on Team USA. We need some offense from him but we're expecting him to be reliable defensively as well."

Parise and USA teammate Ryan Malone are actually tied with 13 even-strength goals this season. Patrick Kane leads all Americans with 14 even-strength tallies.

For Parise, earning a shot in his first Olympics is a childhood dream come true. To be joined by teammates Langenbrunner and defenseman Paul Martin, makes it all the more special.

"We've talked a lot about how we haven't had a lot of practice time but it's been stressed that we're going up there for one reason," Parise said. "When we get to Vancouver, we'll focus on playing hockey. When you have guys there you're comfortable with, it makes it that much easier."

Wilson has coached, at some point, 12 of the 23 players on the USA roster, including Langenbrunner in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.

"I'm familiar with every player as the coach of the Leafs as well," Wilson said. "We'll be a quick team, solid in goal and mobile on defense. We have the right kind of balance up front -- speed and some guys to grind and muck it out with the best of them."

Parise feels Langenbrunner would be a great choice to lead this Olympic Team.

"(Jamie) has been a really good captain for (New Jersey)," Parise said. "He's always going to come to play and work hard. I sit beside him in the locker room and you see the way he carries himself when things are going well and when things aren't going so well for him on personal standpoint. It's been good for me to watch and learn from him with the experience he's had, not only in the Olympics, but with winning the Cups and his success in this League. The young guys on our team are learning a lot from him."

Parise doesn't believe his game will change despite participating in his first Olympics. And, really, the coaching staff -- which includes assistants John Tortorella and Scott Gordon -- would prefer he play his style anyway.

"For me, being the first time, I guess we'll find out in February but I won't mentally approach it any differently," Parise said. "Obviously there's more excitement. It's single-game elimination and the intensity level will be unbelievable. But I just don't think, from my standpoint, I'll try not to approach it any differently because sometimes you could step out of your game and step out of the reason you're there and the reason you got picked."

Wilson admitted Parise will likely play on a line with center Paul Stastny, who's only international experience took place at the 2006 World Junior Championships.

"Paul has accomplished a lot in a very short period of time, but now he has a real opportunity to shine and more than likely, will play with Zach," Wilson said. "(Stastny) is an exciting player and really strong on his feet and we'll need every bit of that."

Burke also admitted that he was overruled after informing the media in August at USA's orientation camp that he was leaning toward selecting eight defensemen for the team. In the end, only seven were selected.

"The Team USA managerial staff weighed in as far as taking either 13-and-7 or 12-and-8 and I was in a very, very small minority," Burke said. "I think part of being a good manager is acknowledging if you're staff wants to do it a different way. Then you say let's do it. I've not wavered in my view on this, but I conceded to the view of the group."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com