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Despite success, wounds remain for USA Hockey staff

by Mike G. Morreale
Maybe time really doesn't heal all wounds -- particularly those of the Olympic variety.

Less than a week after dropping a disheartening 3-2 overtime decision to Canada in the gold-medal game at the 2010 Olympics, U.S. coach Ron Wilson still is feeling the effects.

"It's like the first time you find out there's no Santa Claus, because you believe you're going to win it and suddenly, it's yanked out from under you," Wilson said during a USA Hockey conference call Thursday. "Overtimes are a tough way to lose because you don't have a way to respond, just like it's the greatest way to win because, as a coach, you don't have to worry about the next faceoff.

"But we're in the business of winning as professionals and I think this will always sting. You were that close, a shot away, a bounce away from a gold medal. And a gold medal is looked upon far differently than a silver medal in terms of what we do for a living."

That said, Wilson knows what his team accomplished in Vancouver was awfully impressive -- finishing the tournament 5-1 while having three players (goalie Ryan Miller, defenseman Brian Rafalski, forward Zach Parise) named to the media all-star team.

"I don't think I'll ever be in a better atmosphere," Wilson said. "Canadians have a tremendous passion for hockey and that was exhibited. Whether we won or lost, the fans were incredible. It all added up to the greatest experience of my hockey career to this point."

Team USA General Manager Brian Burke echoed those sentiments.

"I thought our players were extremely well-coached and turned in a great performance; they gave us everything they had," Burke said. "I would get in a fox hole with this group anytime, anywhere. They were marvelous. There were no egos, no maintenance, no complaints. Just, what's the job and how do we get it done. Being a part of these Olympics and this atmosphere in Vancouver was a great privilege for me."

Wilson was impressed with how quickly his group came together in such a short amount of time. The U.S. outscored the opposition, 24-9, in its six games. Parise and Rafalski led the way with 4 goals and 8 points each.

"Our attention to detail was phenomenal," Wilson said. "When you only have one day to prepare for your first game, you can't come together as a team unless the team is really focused. Our leaders, from captain Jamie Langenbrunner, down to the assistants to our third goalie (Jonathan Quick) asked questions and wanted to be challenged. They loved playing with each other and you could really see that they cared about each other."

USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean stopped way short of calling the team's accomplishment a miracle.

"Those who cover hockey on only an infrequent basis were saying that winning the gold (in Vancouver) would be achieving a second miracle," Ogrean said. "My response to that is, had we won this thing or even for being in the position we ended up in, there is no miracle about it anymore. We were not in a fluke situation. Our success was in no way accidental and I think those that follow this sport and this organization know many of the building blocks that are in place go back a long, long time -- almost a dozen years ago with the creation of the developmental program in Ann Arbor and the continued success of junior and college hockey in the United States.

"I think in future years, you're going to see more and more USA-Canada showdowns in championship games of various international tournaments."

Burke even offered his eloquent take on the long-lasting effects of Olympic hockey in the United States.

"Look, I watched curling, a sport I don't understand or like, when the American team was on," Burke said. "There's patriotism in the Olympics that no pro sport, not even the NFL, is ever going to capture. Yes, we had people watch hockey and probably turn it off after that (gold-medal) game and never watch it again. But I think far more watched it and said I have to give this thing a try if I haven't already because it's pretty exciting and fun to watch.

"This game has everything you love about sports -- finesse, speed, contact. It's the fastest sport played without an engine and it's an awesome game and we have the best athletes. To play in the NHL is the most difficult task an athlete faces and they're the best guys off the playing surface, too. They're polite, friendly, cordial and professional and I think people who watched the Olympic tournament would be hard-pressed not to fall in love with our game and fall in love with our athletes."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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