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Team USA turns to the next generation

by Phil Coffey
Brian Burke wasn't kidding.

Burke, Team USA's General Manager for the 2010 Winter Olympics, had been forthright about his plans for the American roster, saying that it was time Team USA moved to a younger lineup and away from some of the players, now NHL greybeards, who won the 1996 World Cup and the silver medal at the 2002 Games.

Friday, he did just that, unveiling a roster that did not include past Olympians Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk, Scott Gomez, Brian Rolston and Doug Weight.

"We've got tough calls at every position and Jan 1 is going to be a bittersweet day for our players," Burke told back on Dec. 7, 2009. "We'll have 23 ecstatic players and some disappointed players, but that's only because the pool has increased in depth and width. We have more players and better players to choose from.

"We don't have the big-name recognition like we did at the 1996 World Cup, but we do have what we feel is a deeper and broader pool than ever before. We've put some exciting young players in the League the last 3-4 years --- the (Phil) Kessels and (Patrick) Kanes of the world.
"We've got some grizzled veterans who have participated and competed -- the Tkachuks, Modanos and Guerins. We have to figure out what the balance is. We're not closing the door on that (older) generation, but we're not promising anything either. If it's time to turn the page, we're prepared to do that."

And turn the page he did. Of the Team USA "old guard," Guerin appeared to have the best chance to make the team. He has enjoyed a solid season in Pittsburgh, scoring 12 goals and 16 assists in 41 games.

Modano, the all-time leading scorer among American-born NHL players, has just 6 goals and 9 assists in 27 games this season.

Tkachuk, another Team USA mainstay of the past, has 9 goals and 14 assists in 38 games this season. Weight has been sidelined for much of the season, appearing in just 12 games for the Islanders.

"We've had a generation of players who have represented our country with great ferocity and have answered the bell every time," Burke said. "To steal a line from (television journalist) Tom Brokaw, 'This was our greatest generation as far as what's been accomplished the last 15 years' by that group of the (Brian) Leetchs, the (Chris) Chelios', the (Tony) Amontes and on an on."

Gomez of the Montreal Canadiens, played for Team USA at the 2006 Olympics and was thought to be a core player this time around, but he has struggled for the past two seasons and did not impress this season either.

Brian Gionta, also a Canadien and a 2006 Olympian, saw an injury compromise his season. He has 9 goals and 8 assists in 22 games for Montreal. Rolston, who had played in three Olympics, has 13 goals and 9 assists for the Devils this season.

"Some of the guys who have carried that torch will not be involved and my primary goal on Jan. 1 is to make sure I reach the group that's not going to be included," Burke said on Dec. 7. "I can live with the other guys learning about it watching on TV, but I couldn't live with the guy excluded from the team learning about it that way."

According to Rolston, Burke kept his word.

"It was a class for them to call guys," Rolston told Tom Gulitti of The Bergen Record. "I’ve been there three times and it’s time for the some of the young U.S. Olympians to get that chance. Obviously, it would have been nice to go, but I’m not overly disappointed.”

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