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Drury comes up big again for Team USA

by Shawn P. Roarke
VANCOUVER -- It was the tensest of moments Sunday afternoon for Team USA.
Canada had forged a 2-2 tie Sunday and was sensing blood at the game's midpoint. Wave after wave of Canadian forwards came over the bench, flooding into the zone, buzzing around American goalie Ryan Miller. The capacity crowd was braying and keening for their heroes to right the unsettled picture playing out before their eyes.
Suddenly, the brash upstarts from south of the border had seen their first-period swagger turn into a stagger to the second intermission. They were under duress and just wanted to get to the break without surrendering another goal, which easily could have been a grievous wound at that point of Sunday's contest.
Monday, Team USA Brian Burke called it a "pressure point." And, he talked about how you can tell a lot about a team by how it deals with pressure points in big games.
But, Sunday afternoon, American center Chris Drury had no time to think abstractedly about pressure points. He was too busy actively owning them, as has been his wont throughout a clutch career.
This time, Drury found himself on the attacking zone as the Americans established a stronghold for one of the few times in the period. Suddenly, the Americans had a chance against the run of play -- and Drury seized it with the cold-blooded ruthlessness of an assassin.
The 33-year-old beat the Canadian defense to a rebound to the left of goalie Martin Brodeur and sent a shot to the near post that beat Brodeur, who was dealing with the distraction of American power forward David Backes right on his doorstep.
"He's just clutch," American captain Jamie Langenbrunner told Sunday night. "I think I said that when people were questioning him on this team. There are not too many guys that are more clutch than he is.
"I'm happy to have him on this team. He is another one of those guys that can rise up and play in those pressure situations. He feels good in those pressure situations and delivers, and delivers pretty regularly."
Drury delivered yet again and just like that, the Americans were revived, heading to the dressing room for the second intermission with the lead they had established on the first shift, but had already relinquished twice. Once again, the Americans believed they could knock off the Canadians.
Twenty minutes later, Team USA had done just that, improbably winning the Group A title -- and the top seed in the upcoming knock-out portion of the Olympic tournament -- by upsetting the host country, 5-3.
And, Drury -- who also killed penalties brilliantly and also blocked a Shea Weber slapper in the game's dying seconds as Canada pressed for the equalizer -- had once again delivered on his uncanny ability to deliver in the clutch, which is perhaps the only reason that Drury, in the midst of a disappointing club season with the New York Rangers, has a place among Team USA's 13-forward contingent.
In fact, American coach Ron Wilson unwittingly played the prophet in the tournament's first days, trying to not only defend the inclusion of Drury on the roster, but also the appearance at the time that Drury was destined for a role as the seldom-used No. 13 forward on a team dominated by youngsters.
To make his point, Wilson readily evoked the image of a Team USA icon, 1980 Olympic team captain Mike Eruzione, the face of the Americans' stunning gold-medal triumph in Lake Placid.
"Throughout his career and actually his whole life, the bigger the moment, the better Chris Drury plays," Wilson said. "Everybody knows that. At some point in this tournament, I think he's going to be a hero for us in one of these games. I know this is going to be corny, but he reminds me of a Mike Eruzione-type player."
Sunday was just Drury's latest turn in the spotlight.
After all, we are talking about a man that has 47 postseason goals in the NHL and more than one-third -- 17 to be exact -- have been game-winners. He has won a Little League World Series, a NCAA Division I hockey championship and, most importantly for a hockey player, a Stanley Cup. But, Drury has never been interested in resting on his laurels. To him, the fun is proving yourself over and over each time the test arrives.
Those are the credentials that will buy you some serious support in the hockey community. American GM Brian Burke is a believer and he has stood steadfast in his support of Drury despite an avalanche of criticism ever since Drury was named to the team on New Year's Day.
"I got asked in the press box during the (Canada) game if I felt vindicated about Chris Drury," Burke said Monday afternoon. "I don't have to be vindicated about anything. At the end of this tournament, people are going to look at the results and assess them. We are either going to have brought the right group and we'll get rewarded, or we didn't and we won't get rewarded.
"I would feel that Chris Drury has vindicated himself. I feel that the questioning of him was really unfair. Like I said before we got here, we brought Chris Drury because he is Chris Drury. I think the fact that he was questioned is wrong. That it was unfair to him."
"Throughout his career and actually his whole life, the bigger the moment, the better Chris Drury plays.  Everybody knows that. At some point in this tournament, I think he's going to be a hero for us in one of these games. I know this is going to be corny, but he reminds me of a Mike Eruzione-type player."        -- Ron Wilson
The questioning may have been unfair and, at times, over the top. But, there is no denying Drury has struggled since joining the Rangers three years ago.
The year before he came to Broadway, Drury had 37 goals. He hasn't come close to that number since, and he has just 10 goals this season.
But, while the goals have dried up, Drury's believe in himself and his ability to help any team on which he plays remains steadfast and absolute. As a result, he says he brushed aside the criticism as easily as he seems to shed defenders in the game's biggest moments.
Motivation for me is looking across the ice and seeing a team wearing a different jersey," Drury said. "If I need motivation from what people say or write, I probably shouldn't be playing the game anymore."
Judging from his performance so far in this Olympics, Drury is nowhere near reaching the point where motivation -- or performance -- is an issue.

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