-- Team USA GM Brian Burke
is proud to be an American, and he is going to make sure that the hockey team that represents the United States in the Olympics manifests that same pride.
Back in August, when he first called all the candidates to Chicago that would battle for the final 23 roster spots, he started harping on the issue of patriotism. One of the key facets of that program was involving the military.
In fact, members of the military -- mostly Navy SEALs and Army Rangers -- were brought to Chicago to share stories about their service to the country and what it means to them.
Navy SEAL Lieutenant Jason Redman was one of the speakers, relating how he was wounded eight times, including a bullet to the face, during a battle in Afghanistan. He was rescued by other members of his SEAL "team" and has returned to military duty.
It is a story that has stuck with many of these players since that five-day orientation.
"The real heroes in America don't wear hockey uniforms, they wear police uniforms, they wear camo, they wear fire uniforms, and we want our players to understand that what we do is small potatoes compared to what those people do," Burke said Saturday.
So it should come as no surprise that there has been a military component to Team USA's preparations here in Vancouver.
Burke and USA Hockey joined forces with Operation Homefront and had a wounded soldier adopt each member of Team USA. The soldiers sent packages, including letters of encouragement to the players. Those packages were placed in the American dressing room at Canada Hockey Place earlier this week.
"We are very proud of the military in our country and it's part of what we do," Burke said.
"The real heroes in America don't wear hockey uniforms, they wear police uniforms, they wear camo, they wear fire uniforms, and we want our players to understand that what we do is small potatoes compared to what those people do." -- Brian Burke
The letters and personal effects have clearly served as an inspiration to the players.
Saturday, on the eve of a Group A title-deciding game against the host Canadians, young Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan
talked eloquently about the impact the soldiers have had on his team by sharing their battlefield experiences.
"They talked about how much they come together with their brothers in battle and they alluded to the fact that we are a lot like them in that sense, but not at the grand scale," Ryan said. "It's very inspirational and we are glad those guys are behind us. It's very inspirational and puts things in perspective for you."
Ryan says he plans to contact his adoptive soldier after he leaves Vancouver and things settle down a bit, and thank him for both his service to the United States and the impact he has had on a young hockey team trying to forge its reputation in the white-hot cauldron of Olympic competition.
Los Angeles Kings
forward Dustin Brown
also talked about the impact the alliance with the United States military has had on the team.
As he talked, it quickly became clear that it was not merely lip service. Instead, there is a deep understanding of what it means to be an American and to represent the country -- be it in armed combat or in athletic competition.
"We realize that our soldiers always have to go over into foreign soil and get the job done and they always do," Brown said. "That is kind of our theme. We are on foreign soil and we have to get the job done."
In less than 24 hours, the Americans will get their first chance to do just that, playing a favored Canadian squad in what will be the most hostile atmosphere many of them have ever endured.
Simply, it will be a test of not only their physical abilities, but also their mental toughness.
And it is a safe bet that once things get dicey Sunday night at Canada Hockey Place -- and they will get dicey, as they always do against Team Canada -- more than one player on the American squad will likely hear the voices of the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers that have been a part of them for almost five months now or turn the focus to the personal effects that now sit in the lockers of the American players.
When that happens, Burke beliefs his boys will refocus on the task at hand and redouble their efforts.
"If we can match the success that our (military) guys have, that would be tremendous," Brown said.