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Burke: 2010 U.S. Olympic team will be younger

by John McGourty

"The way I build my teams, you've seen my teams play. We go for high, high skill in the top six forwards and we go for hardhats on the bottom."
-- Brian Burke, Team USA general manager for the 2010 Winter Olympics

The team that the United States will send to the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver is coming into focus according to Team USA General Manager Brian Burke.

The team will be much younger and probably tougher than the team that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey and a silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Older, familiar faces like Derian Hatcher, Chris Chelios, and Jeremy Roenick most likely won't be there. And, no surprise, Burke said the American squad will be a tough one.

"It's a small surface, so we'll probably have more sand and grit in the lineup than we'd want if we were playing on the larger international surface," Burke said. "I think it favors both North American teams, Canada and the U.S., to play on the smaller surface."

Burke said a decision was made to play the 2010 Olympics on an NHL-sized rink, rather than the larger international surface that usually prevails in the Olympics, but he wasn't part of the decision. In fact, he said it took a little bit by surprise.

"That debate took place before I was named as the general manager," Burke said. "When I was in Vancouver, we did the contract with the Olympics for the building. I was the GM there at the time. They provided for an international ice surface. We had to jackhammer out five rows of seats and re-configure the building. At one point, it was going to be an international ice surface, no bones about it. Then it went back."

Burke took pains to praise the older American players who represented their country so well for so long, but nothing lasts forever and it's time to introduce new, talented faces.

"The team we had at the World Championships this year in Halifax is a transition team," Burke said. "It's the first American team that hasn't had one of that great group that included the Modanos, the Leetches, the Richters. I mean, that group led us into battle for 15 years. Dougie Weight, Tony Amonte, Jeremy Roenick, this is the first time we've gone into war without these guys. That's not saying that any of them won't be involved in 2010. Keith Tkachuk is off to a great start. He's having a marvelous year.

"But it's going to be a different generation of players that a lot of people in the U.S. aren't going to be able to recognize," Burke said. "... For some of these guys, it will be their first foray onto the international stage. I think we may have some names that people won't recognize because we need some sand in the lineup. To play on the NHL sheet, to play Canada on Canadian soil, we'll need them in the lineup."

"The way I build my teams, you've seen my teams play. We go for high, high skill in the top six forwards and we go for hardhats on the bottom," Burke said.

While Americans may not be as familiar with the younger players likely to be on the team, Burke is convinced that the skill level of American hockey players is higher than it has ever been. It will need to be because that is true also of the other countries that will be contending in Vancouver.

"The talent pool, thanks to the Under-18 program in Ann Arbor, the talent pool will be the deepest yet," Burke said. "The reason the betting money will be on the other countries is because of the star power they'll be able to put on the ice. We might have a younger group, but I don't mind being the underdog going into Vancouver. People say Canada's got the best team or Russia's got the best team or the Swedes have the best team. I don't mind at all going into a tournament as the underdog.

"Some of these kids did win a gold medal in the (2004) World Juniors," Burke said. "Ryan Kesler was on that team. They have had some success. USA Hockey has done a great job in bringing our pool up. We had the NHL rookie of the year last year (Pat Kane). We've had more first-round picks in the last two drafts than we've ever had. We're clearly on the upswing and that's a credit to the people at USA Hockey. The players we're getting are better and there are more of them."

If Americans aren't familiar yet with the younger generation, there is a strong possibility that they will be after the tournament.

"They need a stage. The (gold-medal) 1996 (World Cup) team had a stage," Burke said. "This will be these kids' stage and they need to step up at that time. I think if they do that, no one will say that there's a lost generation. They'll say that was a good transition. But it's up to our group to do that. No one is famous until they get a stage."

While the Olympics are still two years away, the winnowing process is under way. Some, if not all, members of the team will be announced next summer, possibly after an evaluation camp in late summer.

"We are well into the selection process," Burke said. "There are five general managers that work on this. David Poile (Nashville) is the assistant general manager. There's also Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia) from St. Paul, Ray Shero from the Pittsburgh Penguins and Donnie Waddell from Atlanta. We've all submitted a ghost lineup already. We've put in our team as if we were picking today. We're trying to find some common ground. If one guy is on all five ballots, then he's probably a good bet to make the team.

"Then we have to identify the scouting patterns that we're going to do. When our teams aren't playing, we're going to be at games watching guys play. We will do an evaluation camp next summer, the summer of '09, probably in September or late August. We don't have a location yet. It could be the Broadmoor (Colorado) or Lake Placid. We'll bring in a low number, hopefully maybe 30, no more than 35 players. We have a pretty significant number of NHL players to choose from, so to get to 30 will be a task, but I don't I don't think you can properly evaluate or work with a group much bigger than that.

"The NHL, the NHLPA and the U.S. Olympic Committee will want us to name at least some of the team, I'm sure, by Labor Day next summer. We haven't gotten those regulations yet, but they'll want to be able to advertise names. As talent people, we'd like to wait until the day before the Olympics to see who is hot and who is not."

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