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by Heath Price-Khan / Arizona Coyotes
Keith Ballard and Team USA are in hot pursuit of a medal at the 2008 IIHF World Championship as they enter the Quarterfinals against Finland. With snipers like the Coyotes’ Peter Mueller along with Pat Kane and Phil Kessel, this team can go toe-to-toe with the world’s best. As Team USA prepared for their next showdown in Halifax, we caught up with the “Master of the Hip-Check” to get an update on his experiences at this prestigious tournament.

Heath Price-Khan: How has your experience been so far at the 2008 IIHF World Championship? It has to be special to represent your country.
Keith Ballard: It is always an honor to play for your country and this has been a great experience. We have a really young team so it has been great playing with all the guys and getting to know everybody.

: What was training camp like in Maine? Did you get to enjoy any local lobster?
KB: It was great up there. We had this huge Clam Bake event with all kinds of seafood and lobster so that was a lot of fun. Aside from that, we practiced a lot to get prepared for the tournament.

HPK: In your first game of the tournament you got to wear some retro looking throwback jerseys as a tribute to the 1960 US Olympic Team. That must have been pretty special.
KB: That was really cool to wear those sweaters. They did not have names on the back, just numbers. The only bad part was that they did not let us keep them.

HPK: Do you feel like this is in some way a continuing audition for the 2010 Olympics?

KB: In some ways it is because a lot of these guys will be on that team in 2010, but a lot of that will depend on how you play over the next two NHL seasons.

HPK: What would it mean to you to make that Olympic team, and how extra special would it be to get that opportunity with the event in North America?
KB: It would be a tremendous honor to have a chance to represent my country at the Olympics. The fact that it is in North America certainly makes it even a little extra special.

: Who are you rooming with at the tournament?
KB: During training camp in Maine my roommate was Paul Martin of the New Jersey Devils and we have known each other for a long time so that was cool. We both grew up in Minnesota, and then were teammates at the University of Minnesota for a couple years. Once we got to Canada for the tournament we got our own rooms which has been nice.

HPK: Who are the guys on Team USA that are keeping the team loose? Are there any pranksters on the team?
KB: That guy is definitely Matt Greene who plays defense for the Edmonton Oilers. He is the resident comedian and prankster. No doubt, he is that leader in that category and definitely has been keeping everybody laughing!

HPK: Unless I am mistaken, he is also the leader in penalty minutes?
KB: (Laughs) Yeah, I guess he is. Matt is a big physical guy (6’3” 233 lbs) and they tend to call things a little tighter in international play so he has definitely taken a few penalties.

HPK: Which of your teammates skill level has been the biggest surprise? Phil Kessel and Pat Kane have certainly been lighting it up so is it one of them, or someone else?
KB: We played against Pat Kane four times this year so I got a first hand look at how talented he is, but when you see a guy like that every day in practice and play with him you begin to realize just how special a player he really is. The fact that he and Peter Mueller are only 20 years old is great for USA Hockey.

HPK: How has Peter Mueller been doing? Who has he been skating on a line with?
KB: Peter’s been playing really well in this tournament. I’m not sure who he is on a line with for the next game because the coaches have been shuffling the line combinations a little bit.

HPK: What kind of non hockey activities have you guys done as a team? Any team building trips?
KB: During training camp in Maine we took a trip and had a team battle in paint ball. It was a great opportunity to bond with all the guys and everyone had a great time. I got hit a few times so I can guarantee you that when you get hit it hurts and you certainly feel it.

: For the fans in Phoenix that have never ventured to Halifax, talk a little bit about what that city is like.
KB: It is a really cool city on the water and the atmosphere around the town has been a lot of fun. For the European fans this is a huge deal so they are really into it. This is really their Stanley Cup. No matter where you go there are people decked out in their countries colors showing support for their teams like Latvia and Finland.

HPK: Speaking of Finland, you guys had a heated game with them on Sunday that was filled with penalty minutes. How heated do you expect Wednesday’s quarterfinal match-up to be?

: It is going to be a very intense game because the winner moves on to the Medal Round and that is where we want to be.

HPK: In that game Team USA was up 2-0 before eventually losing 3-2. What kind of adjustment is the coaching staff looking to make so that you guys move on?
KB: We know we did not play our best game Sunday, so we just need to be more focused and execute better.

HPK: What is the overall mood of the team right now? Is it a confident group that feels it can win it all?
KB: Absolutely, we have a lot of confidence in the room right now and know that we can compete with anybody in this tournament.

: Obviously, you never want to look past a team, but if you do get by Finland you might get a second chance at knocking off Canada on their home turf. How special would that be?
KB: Like you said, you never want to look past a team, but we would love another shot at Canada. We played them tough the last time and lost on a Dany Heatley goal  in the final minute. To beat them on their home turf would be extra special, but right now we are only concentrating on getting past Finland.

HPK: Once the tournament ends, you have to shift your attention to your upcoming summer wedding. Has playing for Team USA gotten you off the hook from wedding preparations?
KB: (Laughs) Luckily, we got that pretty much taken care of before I came up here for the tournament, but that is a special day I am looking forward to.

HPK: Final question, who is your pick to win the Stanley Cup?

KB: I have not had a chance to watch that much of it, but from what I have seen I would have to go with Detroit. With the way Zetterberg and Datsyuk are playing they are going to be very tough to beat so if I had to choose it would be the Red Wings.

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