Even though the 2010 Olympic Games are six months away, USA Men’s Hockey GM Brian Burke knows that his biggest responsibilities are still ahead. Of the 34 players invited to this week’s USA Hockey Orientation Camp, only 23 can make the trip to Vancouver and it is Burke’s job to select those that he thinks have the best shot at gold.
“This is an important three days for us,” Burke said Monday at Seven Bridges Ice Arena in Woodridge, Ill. “If we’ve identified this group properly, the 23-man roster will come out of this camp. It’s going to be an exciting couple of days.”
He may be dealing with the most talented players that the U.S. has to offer, but Burke understands that he and his staff have to put together a complete hockey team. He isn't just interested in assembling a collection of the best players; they have to fit the system as well.
“I think USA Hockey has given us the best talent pool that we’ve ever been able to draw from. It has given us better odds because there are more choices,” he said. “We’re going to look at specific skill sets -- people who do certain things and do them well. We’ve tried to identify specific jobs on a hockey team that each of these players can fill.”
However, the attribute that Burke is looking for most is leadership.
“When we were fortunate enough to win a championship in Anaheim, we won it with a leadership group -- we didn’t just put it all on [captain] Scott Niedermayer,” recalled Burke. “That to me is how teams are successful: identify high-character players who have leadership skills and make them part of your decision making process.”
To get his players into the proper mindset, Burke solicited the help of USA Basketball national director Jerry Colangelo and together the two designed a curriculum for the players. Each attendee to this week’s camp will participate in a series of team-building exercises and discussions with current and former members of the U.S. military, who Burke calls “the real American heroes.”
“I do believe that character is a vital element to putting together a winning team,” Burke said. “I have always stressed that and I always will.”
Burke is hopeful that his Team USA roster will come out of this camp, but he added that USA Hockey has an additional 40 NHL players in the U.S. Anti-doping Agency program, the first requirement for international play. In other words, the race for a roster spot is still wide-open.
“The process is far from over,” Burke said. “If a player comes out of the gate with a great start this season, he is very much alive.”