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Red, white and blue pride suits these Olympians

by Mike G. Morreale
Jamie Langenbrunner will lead Team USA into the 2010 Winter Games with one objective -- winning a gold medal for his country.

"I'm going there to win," Langenbrunner said. "I go into every game expecting to win. I go into every season expecting to win a Stanley Cup and it'll be no exception going into these Olympics -- I expect a gold medal.

"That's the goal and that's the focus and I'm going to do everything I can to make it happen."

Is there any doubt Langenbrunner wears his heart on his sleeve? As the captain for Team USA, the third-oldest player on the American roster, behind defenseman Brian Rafalski and goalie Tim Thomas, is gearing up for his second appearance in the Winter Games and first since the '98 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

"When you're playing for your country, you're playing for a broader range of people," Langenbrunner said. "You're playing for something that has been given to you -- the right to live in such a great country. It's an honor and something you don't take lightly so when you get the opportunity, you embrace it."

Langenbrunner, a veteran of 13 NHL seasons, will be assisted by alternate captains Zach Parise, Dustin Brown, Ryan Suter and Rafalski. Team USA's roster, with an average age of 26.5, includes 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies. Langenbrunner has worn the "C" for the New Jersey Devils the past three seasons.

"I'm proud that not only my organization (New Jersey) thinks I'm doing a good job (as captain), but the leaders of other organizations picking Team USA think I'm capable of doing it," Langenbrunner said. "I've tried my whole career being a leader and help my team regardless of the situation and it feels great to be recognized for it."

Parise is also a proud American. His father, J.P., was selected as a checking forward on a line with Wayne Cashman and Phil Esposito for Team Canada during the Summit Series of 1972. The younger Parise is now looking forward to making his mark on the big international stage.

"Our team has a little bit of everything from goal-scorers to playmakers," Parise said. "If you look at our roster, you find scorers, puck movers and penalty-killers, so they picked the team to play any kind of style."

Parise was pleasantly surprised when informed he'd be an alternate captain in his first Olympic Games.

"I went to the (orientation) camp in 2006 before they went to Torino and I didn't expect to make it, but it was good to see how things are somewhat run and get an idea," Parise said.

"Then to watch it on TV, you really start to get a little excitement about the next one. You start to think, 'Man, I really want to be there.' It's a different feeling when you're representing your country on an Olympic stage; I would think it's going to be unbelievable."

Rafalski is the Olympic veteran of Team USA, having played on the silver medal-winning 2002 team before returning for the 2006 Games.

"It'll be important not taking any time or any shifts off in a game," Rafalski said. "You want to put yourself in the best situation heading into the elimination round. In a short tournament, getting everybody on the same page as quickly as possible and getting organized and communicating as much as possible so that we're as comfortable as we can be out on the ice is important. It's a great honor, especially since we have one of the younger teams there; we'll have a lot of energy and enthusiasm and that'll be huge."

Wearing the red, white and blue of the American jersey never gets old for Rafalski.

"When you put the jersey on, it's special because you don't get many opportunities to do it and you always want to take advantage," he said. "You're representing all the players underneath you and the whole country and you're battling against other countries which send their best. It makes for a good, fun competition."

And while Rafalski is the elder statesman on the team at 36-years-old, Chicago's Patrick Kane, who participated in the 2007 World Junior Championships and the '08 World Championships, is the youngest at 21.

"I remember going to orientation camp (in August) and how exciting it was to see my name next to something even associated with the Olympics," Kane said. "Every time you put on the USA sweater, it's one of those things you cherish and appreciate. It takes you back to a young age when you do put on the U.S. sweater because you're basically playing with your friends that you played with your whole time growing up."

Despite his age, Kane doesn't anticipate being starry-eyed once he hits the ice in Vancouver. And he can't, particularly if coach Ron Wilson opts to have him on the team's top line.

"It's a really young team but I've been the youngest player on the Blackhawks for three straight years so I'm used to it now," he said. "It's kind of fun being the young guy. At the same time, once you get on the ice, age really doesn't matter. You just go out there and play the game. It could be one of those things where it's kind of the passing of the torch and you want to be one of those guys leading the way."

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