by Bloomberg 1130's Chris King
When the 2006 Winter Olympics begin in February in Turin, Italy, the Islanders will have six representatives participating in the games. For Rick DiPietro, Mark Parrish and Jason Blake, this will be their first-ever Olympic experience. For Alexei Zhitnik, Alexei Yashin and Miroslav Satan, it marks the third Olympiad for each player. This past week I had a chance to sit down with all six players individually. Here are the Olympic dreams of the newcomers and the Olympic memories of those that have been there before.
Rick DiPietro USA
"It's something I've been striving towards for a long time, having grown up through the ranks of USA Hockey. It's pretty much a dream come true. I always go back to living in Winthrop, Massachusetts the hometown of Mike Eruzione and getting a chance to sit with him and go through the stories of how unbelievable it was for him to win a gold medal in 1980 and represent his country. I'm so excited not only for myself, but for Jason Blake and Mark Parrish also. We all have a chance to go represent the USA. Hopefully come February we'll all be going on full cylinders and we'll do our best to make everybody proud."
Mark Parrish USA
"I'm so excited I don't really know how to even put it into words. I'm honored to be able to wear the red, white and blue. It's a childhood dream of mine come true. Ever since I can remember starting to skate I've always dreamed about playing in the Olympics. It's pretty amazing right now. I think it will finally hit home when I'm actually there and competing. It's always special when you can go, and when you get to go with two good friends and teammates it makes it even better that's the icing on the cake. I grew up idolizing a lot of guys on our roster like Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk. Chris Chelios was my brother's all-time favorite player. So it's pretty much a dream come true to get a chance to play for my country with this team."
Jason Blake - USA
"I'm so excited. It's a dream come true. It's even better because Parry and Ricky are going too. It's going to be the first time for all three of us. In past years we have all represented the USA in World Championships and the World Cup, but the Olympics is the highest level of competition, so it's a great thrill to be a part of it and to be recognized. We might all be a part of history. It's great to share something like this with your teammates. It's going to be fun. I had a blast in the World Cup. You meet new people, they become your teammates, and they become your friends as well. I started a bond with a few guys in the World Cup, and it's carried over now, so I'll get to see them all again in Italy. We're all going there for the same reason to win. Hopefully we'll make history for Team USA in February."
Alex Zhitnik Russia
1992 Albertville Gold Medal
1998 Nagano Silver Medal
"I've played for the National Team for almost 15 years now. I've played in two Olympic games and quite a few World Championships. The Olympics are a two-week tournament in which you have a chance to win a gold medal. It's a huge plus that the NHL players are part of the Olympics now. People can get to see the best players in the world and it's so much fun. It's a little bit different than the Stanley Cup playoffs. One game decides everything. One mistake and you could be out or one good play and you could win a gold medal. It's all about timing and handling the pressure, and I usually enjoy those kinds of games. In 1992 we had a great team and we had no problem winning the gold. In 1998 all of the NHL players were involved. We lost 1-0 in the gold medal game although we dominated the Czech team in their zone. It was a really tight game, there weren't a lot of chances, and one goal decided who got the Olympic gold medal. But silver is still a good medal, I can't complain. But once you've won the gold, it's always more enjoyable and more exciting to finish on top. I've played twice in the Stanley Cup finals and didn't win it either time. I've played twice in the Olympics and have a gold and silver medal to show for it."
Alexei Yashin Russia
1998 Nagano Silver Medal
2002 Salt Lake City Bronze Medal
"It's a big honor for anyone to play for your country in a big competition like the Olympic games. Especially now with all the professional players involved, all the best players in the world will play and compete against each other for their countries. It's been just a great experience for me. Once we went to the gold medal game and lost to the Czech Republic 1-0. They only scored one goal, and we had plenty of great scoring chances in the game before and after their goal. It was probably one of the most exciting games I've ever played in my life. It's always great to be involved in this type of competition and great to feel like you are still wanted by your country too. It's going to be another great experience and hopefully we can have some success as well. There are a lot of guys who have been playing for the National Team for years. I grew up with Nikolai Khabibulin and will get a chance to be his teammate once again."
Miroslav Satan Slovakia
1994 Lillehammer 9 goals in 8 games, including 2 hat tricks
2002 Salt Lake City
"This will be my third experience. It's something I've enjoyed in the past and I hope I will enjoy it again in February. I'm looking forward to the whole experience once more. In 1994, I was a rookie on the team, and going into the Olympics I was an unknown player. I was just a substitute for our team. In the first game, after just one period, the coach wasn't happy with one of our players and he put me in there. I scored 11 seconds into the second period on my very first shift. From that point on, I played right until the end of the Olympics. It really was the start of my international career. For me, those Olympics will be forever in my mind. I was a 19-year old rookie, playing on a team with players like Peter Stastny. Stastny was captain of the team and 38-years old double my age. It was just an unbelievable experience for a 19-year old guy to have".