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Gleason Earns Olympic Opportunity

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Update: Hear Gleason's comments to the media in Buffalo here.

Tim Gleason narrowly missed out the original Team USA roster that was named on New Year’s Day. When it became clear that reinforcements were required, General Manager Brian Burke and company didn’t forget about him.

Paul Branecky
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Gleason officially received the nod Thursday after two of the team’s defensemen, Mike Komisarek and Paul Martin, were deemed unable to participate due to injury. Ryan Whitney of the Anaheim Ducks was also named to the team during a media conference call.

”Gleason was always in the mix when we put this team together,” said David Poile, associate general manager of Team USA and general manager of the Nashville Predators. “There was not a unanimous decision (in January).”

The selection is a fitting reward for Gleason, who has been a bright spot in an otherwise difficult season in Carolina. Despite routinely going against the opposition’s top forwards in a shutdown role, he has hovered around an even plus/minus rating all year, currently sporting a -2.

While acknowledging the difficulties of evaluating defensemen on struggling teams –Burke called it “the hardest thing to do in hockey” – Burke and Poile said that Gleason’s dependable role in Carolina convinced them that he would be able to match up with the best the world has to offer later this month.

“When I watch Gleason play for Carolina against Washington, he’s playing against Alexander Ovechkin,” said Poile.  “When I watch him play against Pittsburgh, he’s playing against Sidney Crosby.”

Gleason has shown considerable heart and toughness this season, as demonstrated by his prompt same-night return from two frightening injuries against the Washington Capitals in late November and early December. In the second instance, he memorably scored the shorthanded, game-tying goal while still bleeding from a puck-induced facial wound.

According to Burke, that type of grittiness is the primary reason that Gleason was chosen to replace Komisarek, who plays a similar type of game.

”The players going in are eerily similar to the players they are replacing,” said Burke, who signed Komisarek as a free agent this past summer in his day job as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. “He’s a guy like Mike Komisarek who can kill penalties and finish checks.”

”He’s a guy that will go to war for us, and that’s exactly what this team needs,” added Poile.

Burke also cited the emerging leadership skills of Gleason, who has occasionally served as an alternate captain with the Hurricanes when incumbents such as Ray Whitney or Eric Staal (before he took the “C”) were injured.

However, in doing so, the gruff-yet-witty executive couldn’t resist taking a good-natured jab at Gleason, who exhibits the quiet lead-by-example mentality that is commonplace in Carolina.

”He’s not chatty,” said Burke, who worked with Gleason while GM of last summer’s American entry at the IIHF World Championship. “Your worst nightmare might be to get stuck in a fishing boat with Tim Gleason for an afternoon.”

Although these will be the first Olympic Games for Gleason, who attended orientation camps this past summer and in the summer of 2005 as a considerably less rugged-looking 22-year-old (pictured left), he has represented the United States at the 2008 World Championship and two World Junior Championships in 2001 and 2003. He enjoyed his first-ever taste of the NHL playoffs this past spring, including a particularly strong performance in the opening round against New Jersey.

While pairings are yet to be determined, it would be interesting if he lined up alongside Jack Johnson, a former Hurricanes draft pick whom he was traded for in a September 2006 deal with the Los Angeles Kings. Johnson, whose strengths are strongly weighted towards the offensive side of the game, could use a stay-at-home type to back him up. Makes sense on paper, anyway.

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