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Burke just fine with underdog role for 2010 Olympics

by Dan Rosen
Undersized, inexperienced and vastly underrated is how Brian Burke envisions Team USA being received at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

He's perfectly fine with that appraisal, too.

"Not one cent will be bet on Team USA in Vegas," Burke, Team USA's General Manager, said Thursday in a conference call, "but we are going there to win anyway -- and I don't mind going in an underdog role."

Burke, Team USA Associate GM David Poile and the entire advisory committee, including NHL general managers Ray Shero (Pittsburgh), Don Waddell (Atlanta), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia) and Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles), have been hard at work in scouting and paring down the list of potential players for the American entry.

According to Burke, they have discussed every NHL player with an American passport and trimmed the group to 50. They plan to slice at least 20 more names off the list before inviting players to the Men's National Team orientation camp, which takes place Aug. 17-19 in Woodbridge, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

While it's likely that young stars like Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Dustin Brown and Paul Stastny will dominate the invitations, Burke is not omitting aging veterans and USA Hockey mainstays such as Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk and Bill Guerin.

Not only have they always answered the call from USA Hockey, they are proving they still can play the game at a high level.

"If you look at that group of warriors, to me, it's unfair to say it's time to turn the page and exclude a guy whose play might warrant his inclusion. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me," Burke said. "You cannot exclude Mike Modano or Keith Tkachuk based on the way their play has gone this season. Nobody is excluding anybody."

That means New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro remains on Burke's list of goalie candidates along with Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller and potentially a few more. DiPietro's injury problems have been well-documented, but Burke seems undeterred.

"He's too good of an athlete to be off the radar," Burke said of DiPietro. "This is a guy who is a world-class athlete, a world-class goaltender and a great kid. Yes, he's very much alive even though he hasn't been able to stay healthy.

"For as far as we've come in the last 15 years, I will also add we're not deep enough that we can overlook an athlete of that magnitude."

Burke said he's already met twice with the committee, which also includes Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations. He talks to Poile at least three times a week and on occasion places calls to Shero, Holmgren, Lombardi and Waddell for input.

Having Waddell on the committee is essential, Burke said.
Waddell was the GM of the 2006 American squad that finished eighth in with a 1-4-1 record. In trying to build the 2010 roster, Burke said they are examining the mistakes made in 2006.

"That's why Donnie Waddell is part of our management team," Burke said. "We're going back and second-guessing and nitpicking and trying to figure it out. You can't learn from your mistakes unless you examine them. Then you forget about them and move on. (Waddell's) experience is invaluable to us."

Burke plans to assemble the group again next month, likely at the annual NHL General Managers meetings in Naples, Fla. That's when the conversation will turn to coaches.

It will be interesting to see who gets the job considering one of the top candidates is Ron Wilson, the Toronto Maple Leafs' coach and one of Burke's closest friends for 36 years. Wilson led Team USA to the championship at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.

"He is definitely a candidate and there are several," Burke said. "We'll leave it at that."

Burke isn't afraid that his friendship and current association as Wilson's boss will cloud the ultimate decision on who coaches Team USA.

"Our friendship is going to survive this relationship (in Toronto) and it's strong enough that it will survive that selection if it doesn't include Ron Wilson," Burke said. "We're better friends than that, but this selection will not be made by Brian Burke. This team will be put together by this group. Any player or coach omitted will be omitted because we're trying to win this tournament and I expect them to handle it professionally."

Burke hopes to have the coach in place soon after the NHL Entry Draft in June, but no matter who gets the job, the roster will ultimately resemble the blueprint of a Burke-built squad.

Expect to see six highly skilled forwards and six "pick-and-shovel guys," Burke said. "The pick-and-shovel guys may be very skilled players, but they'll be asked to accept a different role for this tournament.

"We're not going to pick a team on a reactive basis. Our goal is to succeed regardless of the style of the team we play."

You may see a preview of Team USA in Switzerland this spring at the 2009 IIHF Men's World Championship, which runs from April 24-May 10. As long as his team is not still alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Burke stressed that any American-born player who wants to be an Olympian in 2010 needs to play in Switzerland.

"It's going to be a mandatory audition for some of them," Burke said. "We're not begging anyone to play on this team. If that means they have to go to Switzerland to show us what they can do because we're undecided, then they better get on that plane."

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