-- Team USA General Manager Brian Burke
has been playing the underdog card ever since the players reported to summer orientation camp in Chicago.
Sunday evening, just two days removed from the start of the Olympic hockey tournament, Burke wasn't about to change his tune. Playing the same song he has turned into a hit, Burke placed all the pressure on the host Canadians, even refuting the assertion made by Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman
on Saturday that the hosts were the underdogs to Russia, the top-ranked team in the world.
’s a real smart man and he’s trying to take some of that pressure off Team Canada," Burke said in Sunday's opening press conference at the Main Media Center. "I might mention in passing, I think (the pressure) is glacial and unremitting and unrelenting. I can’t imagine how they’re going to function in this environment; but they’ll find a way I’m sure."
While Burke went out of his way to insist that his woe-is-us spiel is not an attempt at gamesmanship nor a convenient ploy to lessen the expectations on a very young American team, it appears that the players are ready to play a far different tune as the tournament starts.
"I don't know who makes the underdog statement, but I certainly think I speak for everyone when I say that when I go out and play these games for the USA, I expect to win," Los Angeles Kings
defenseman Jack Johnson
said. "I don't go in thinking we are playing some giants or anything.
"We are the United States of America and we're a pretty big deal, I think. The general public and everyone views us as underdogs, but there are 20 guys in the locker room that know how good we are and that is all that matters."
Perhaps the influence of Jamie Langenbrunner
has already taken hold.
Langenbrunner, also the captain of the New Jersey Devils
, is a proud player. He admits he is far from a superstar, but he has forged a career full of championships by giving his all every game and believing in his abilities. As a result, he has won a Stanley Cup with both the Dallas Stars
and the Devils.
He is looking to add a gold medal to his already impressive collection of title trinkets and believes now is the time to do it.
"I never consider myself an underdog," Langenbrunner said Sunday. "I go into every game believing I can win and that I am going to win. It's the organizations I've grown up playing in, and fortunately I've been on some good ones and it's kind of fed that a little bit.
"I don't think anyone going on the ice wearing our jersey is going to be thinking, 'Oh we don't deserve to win tonight.' That's not going to be our mentality and that's not going to be anyone's mentality. We're all competitors, we're all in the NHL and we're all the top of our profession."
But they also know that all the talk will matter very little once the puck drops in anger in less than 48 hours. The Americans talked a good game four years ago in Turin, but hit the wrong note almost immediately and finished a very disappointing eighth.
"I don't know who makes the underdog statement, but I certainly think I speak for everyone when I say that when I go out and play these games for the USA, I expect to win. I don't go in thinking we are playing some giants or anything."
-- Defenseman Jack Johnson
Tuesday afternoon, Team USA will open its 2010 campaign against a very dangerous team from Switzerland, a team that beat the Canadians in pool play four years ago. After that, it is a very winnable game against minnow Norway followed by an Armageddon of a game against the host Canadians that will likely determine the top seed in Pool A.
Essentially, the Americans -- like every other title contender in this tournament -- will have just six days to hit their top gear.
Langenbrunner says his team is ready for that challenge and will begin the process with Monday afternoon's sole practice before the start of the Games. He doesn't expect the Americans to be world beaters on Day 1, but definitely by the time the games start to take on more meaning.
"It's important to start finding your game and get something that you can focus on and use as a positive one way or another," Langenbrunner said. "Winning would definitely be the best thing. The key for us is to start playing well right away and build. You don't need to play your best game on Day 1, you need to do it as you are moving forward, and hopefully we understand that."
Despite playing in his first Olympics, Johnson said Sunday he understands the challenge he and his teammates face in the next two weeks. He is ready to get started and prove completely wrong all those who doubt the ability of the Americans to have an impact on this tournament.
And to do it, he says the Americans will have to conquer the same crushing pressure that Burke, his GM, keeps trying to put on the host Canadians.
"I think the pressure on the Canadian team is going to be tremendous, probably bigger than anything they have faced in their lives, but as an athlete, if I was in their shoes, these are the moments you live for," Johnson said. "You don't want to go your career and not play in pressure situations. You find out who you are and the type of player you are in these types of situations, and that is why I am excited to be here."