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Expectations are higher for U.S. team in 2014

Saturday, 06.29.2013 / 3:39 PM / NHL Insider

By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Expectations are higher for U.S. team in 2014
Most of the decision makers for the U.S. entry at the 2014 Winter Olympics will be the same as they were four years earlier, but expectations are higher after the 2010 team won a silver medal.

NEW YORK -- Continuity and raised expectations were the major themes among the most influential minds in U.S. hockey Saturday as the United States announced its general manager and coach for its entry in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Most of the members of the management group, from newly appointed general manager David Poile through the collection of current and former NHL GMs who will advise him, have worked together previously to select American teams for international competitions. The man who will lead the team behind the bench, Dan Bylsma, has no international coaching experience but has plenty of familiarity in dealing with Poile's top lieutenant -- Ray Shero, his boss with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Poile talked at length Saturday about how the core of the team that captured the silver medal in the 2010 games in Vancouver will be back in 2014, provided the League, NHL Players' Association and International Olympic Committee come to an agreement about NHL players participating in Sochi. Many of these players have accumulated plenty of experience playing together, either in international tournaments or at the United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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There will, however, be one major change in 2014 for the United States team if NHL players are in Sochi -- raised expectations.

After a surprising second-place finish in Vancouver in which the Americans pushed Canada to overtime in the championship game, the United States is no longer just happy to medal while powerhouses such as Canada and Russia battle for gold.

"It is different now," president of USA Hockey Ron DiGregorio said. "Hockey in our country has come to a point where winning gold medals is not a miracle. It is an expectation."

The task of choosing a roster that can win gold for the first time since the "Miracle on Ice" team in 1980 belongs to Poile, the Nashville Predators GM, Shero, GM of the Penguins and 2013 NHL GM of the Year, and a collection of other NHL decision makers including Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi, Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, and ex-NHL GMs Brian Burke and Don Waddell.

The man who will lead the U.S. team during the tournament is Bylsma. He won the Stanley Cup in 2009 with the Penguins and earned the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach in 2011. When someone asked about his "not having much" experience coaching internationally, Bylsma was quick to correct the reporter.

"I don't have any experience, so very little is wrong," Bylsma said. "Having said that, in the few days and hours I've had since I've known I was going to be the coach, I've starting going down the road of educating myself as much as possible in terms of international hockey, international competition, playing on the big ice surface. I've talked to some players and coaches and I will continue to do that to try to gain as much experience about the situation of the competition, both on the ice and off the ice."

One of the biggest challenges for this collection of American hockey executives is determining what impact the location of these Olympics will have on the construction of the roster.

The United States has not fared well with NHL players on international ice surfaces. In the two Olympics featuring NHL players that have been in North America -- Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in '10 -- the Americans won silver each time. But they've struggled in the two Olympics that were played overseas on larger ice, finishing sixth in Nagano, Japan, in 1998 and eighth in Turin, Italy, in 2006.

Poile was an assistant GM in 2010 when Burke built a team filled with physical, defensive-minded players. He acknowledged he might have to look at different types of guys to play on the bigger ice in Sochi.

"Bottom line is we have not had a lot of luck or success in Europe, whether it be [the] World Championships or Olympic Games," Poile said. "We've got to tune up our thinking a little bit and the type of players we're going to choose. I referred to us having a lot of players back from 2010. That is going to be accurate. There is going to a core, a foundation -- but there are also going to be some new types of players on the team."

The Americans came within a goal of the gold medal in Vancouver. Bylsma knows the man who scored that goal, Sidney Crosby, pretty well. He will coach Crosby, who is expected to be Canada's No. 1 center, and Evgeni Malkin, who could play the same role for Russia, the host nation, during the 2013-14 NHL season with the Penguins -- but then they will all go to their respective corners and become rivals for two weeks in February.

Bylsma said he was at a rink after the end of his son's youth hockey game watching the 2010 gold medal showdown, and he was pretty certain when the puck came off the wall to Crosby cutting toward the net that Canada was going to celebrate. He'll be in Sochi next February aiming to make sure that doesn't happen again.

"I've coached Sidney, coached Evgeni for a long time now -- four-plus years. I'm acutely aware of their strengths and how they are as a player," Bylsma said. "I'm acutely aware of his strengths and what [Crosby] brings. Having said that, I'm also a little bit concerned that he knows me as a coach, knows my strengths and weaknesses, and he's going to bring that to the Canadian team."

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When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.

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