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Burke has tough choices as Team USA's GM

by Dan Rosen /
The task laid out in front of Team USA General Manager Brian Burke is monumental compared to the one Lou Lamoriello handled 11 years ago and, for that matter, the one that Don Waddell took on in 2006.

While it used to be easy to accurately predict at least two-thirds of Team USA's Olympic roster a year out from the tournament, the rising young generation of American stars has made that task nearly impossible now.

It's a problem Burke is thrilled to have for the 2010 Vancouver Games.

"It's a lot more difficult and that's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful headache to have," Burke said. "I would much rather have harder choices to make among more athletes than if 20 of us were polled and we'd have 18 of the guys picked in advance. It creates a headache, but pass the aspirin. I'm very happy to have it."

Through USA Hockey, Burke and his associate GM, David Poile of the Nashville Predators, are working with a staff of four more NHL general managers. They are trimming the most talented list of players in American hockey history to less than 30 in preparation for the men's national team orientation camp this coming August.

The Americans haven't won gold since the Miracle on Ice team of 1980. They won silver in 2002, but placed eighth in 2006.

The 2010 squad figures to be a longshot for a medal, too, especially with the talented and veteran squads the Canadians, Swedes, Czechs, Russians and Finns plan to bring to the great Northwest.

Burke freely admits the Americans are the underdogs, saying "not one cent will be bet on Team USA in Vegas." He also sees no reason why the yanks can't win a medal, even a gold.

It's a lofty goal for sure, but the changing of the guard in USA Hockey means a younger, smaller and faster team should be wearing the red, white and blue in Vancouver. Expect that team to also have excellent defensive instincts because as far as they have come, the Americans still don't have enough depth to run and gun with Canadians or Russians.

Even though we already stated how ridiculous it would be to try to predict the 23 players Burke will ultimately choose for his team, we'll do it anyway. And, yes, we found this task to be quite a challenge. So will Burke.

Goaltenders: Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller, Rick DiPietro -- Selecting players to fill these three roster spots is probably the easiest task Burke and the committee face considering most of the top young players with American passports are forwards and defensemen.

Thomas, the Boston Bruins' No. 1 goalie, has represented USA Hockey at various World Championships, but never played a pivotal role. As of now we have him as the Americans' No. 1.

He's been so good for the Bruins how could he not be at the top of everyone's list?

Miller was an alternate in 2006, but he should find his way onto the 2010 final roster now that he's four years older and a proven winner in the NHL. DiPietro is a question mark due to his health, but Burke said he's too good of an athlete to leave off the list.

So, we won't because when healthy, DiPietro can be one of the best goalies in the NHL. That, of course, makes him one of the best goalies in the world.

Forwards: Zach Parise, Scott Gomez, Patrick Kane, Dustin Brown, Paul Stastny, Phil Kessel, Jason Pominville, Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan, Keith Tkachuk, Mike Modano, Chris Drury, David Booth --
It's way too early to pick out four lines, but if you look at these selections you may be able to do that without much help from us.

Remember, Burke likes to have six skilled forwards and six "pick and shovel" guys. The pick and shovel guys he chooses for this tournament will still have skill, but they need to be able to play the tough-as-nails game Burke asks for out of his third and fourth lines.

Parise and Gomez have a history of playing together in New Jersey. They were close friends before Gomez left following the 2006-07 season and remain close since Parise has blossomed into one of the NHL's elite goal scorers.

Parise could play on the left wing with Gomez in the middle. Kane could slide in on the right, making this a smallish scoring line, but one that is very creative and has all the ingredients necessary, including a nose for the goal, passing skills and defensive smarts.

Kane is the face of USA Hockey right now. He'll be 21 when the Olympics begin in a year. Parise will be 25 and Gomez, who played in Torino in 2006, will be 30.

Brown is one of the toughest forwards in the NHL, but also has the ability to be an elite scorer. Provided Stastny is healthy, he could be one of the most underrated players at next year's Olympic tournament. Kessel is showing the fruits of his development this season as a right wing on the Bruins top line.

Pominville, Pavelski and Booth are all playmakers and good checkers. They are the prototype for what Burke is looking for in Olympic pick and shovel guys - skilled but tough, smart and defensively sound.

They're not big, but they use their size to their advantage when they go up against bigger guys in the corners and in front of the net. And, they all can skate.

Burke knows Ryan well. As Anaheim's GM, he drafted the New Jersey native with the second pick in the 2005 Entry Draft. Burke was also patient with Ryan, giving the kid time to develop and mold his body into one befitting an NHL player.

Ryan is rewarding the Ducks this season with his strong play around the net and solid play in both zones. Some may view him as a longshot to play for Team USA in 2010, but since he can be a first-line guy or a fourth-line guy, he has a good chance of making the team as long as his game doesn't fall apart. It shouldn't considering he's only gaining confidence.

And, finally, you have the old guard - the trio of Modano, 38, Tkachuk, 36, and, to a lesser extent, Drury, who will be 33 when the Games begin. They have played in a combined 51 Olympic games, answering the call from USA Hockey countless times and building an excellent bridge for the younger generation.

There are people who think USA Hockey should scrap the old generation and just go with its bright future at these Games, but the thought here is Team USA will need some veterans to guide the younger stars through their first Olympics.

Plus, Tkachuk is the kind of meat-and-potatoes guy that Burke loves, Drury may be the leader he's looking for, and Modano can still flat out fly.

Defensemen: Brian Rafalski, Mike Komisarek, Ryan Suter, Erik Johnson, Keith Ballard, Brooks Orpik, Jack Johnson -- Among this group of seven blueliners, only Rafalski has Olympic experience. He played in both 2002 and 2006 and should again be a key contributor to the Americans' cause in 2010. There are few in the NHL who move the puck better than Rafalski, who has been one of the most consistent players since coming into the League in 1999.

If you have a guy like Rafalski on your top pair, you need someone like Mike Komisarek to play next to him.

Komisarek brings the no-frills style that is necessary to win, especially on the NHL-sized ice surface. He's used to playing second-fiddle to a puck-moving defenseman in Montreal (Andrei Markov), so Burke will be asking Komisarek to do what he does best, which is play defense, block shots and dole out some punishment.

Suter possesses a heavy shot from the point, making him a perfect power-play guy for Team USA. He also has Olympic bloodlines as his father, Bob, played for the 1980 gold medal winning team.

Erik Johnson, who should be completely healed from his knee injury by the time next season begins, also has a heavy shot and a mean streak. The 20-year-old may be inexperienced in the NHL game, but he can dole out some punishment.

No matter if Team USA's coach, whoever that may be, uses Orpik on the second or third pair, he's going to be a shutdown guy and a solid penalty killer. Ballard is more in the puck-moving mold, but smart defensively.

Like Erik, Jack Johnson is also inexperienced in the NHL game, but he can do it all from the blue line. He has instincts befitting a veteran even though he's only 22 years old.

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