|Brian Burke, Team USA (Getty Images) |
Brian Burke preferred to stand clear of making any bold predictions or providing bulletin board material following the release of the United States team he'll send into battle at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver next month.
However, Team USA's general manager did admit one thing -- "We're there to win."
"We're the last team to release a roster among all the major countries," Burke said Friday after Boston's 2-1 overtime victory over the Flyers in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
"What's going to happen now is all the people who get paid to make these types of decisions and commentary will evaluate everything we've done," Burke said. "But I'm telling you one position where the U.S. doesn't have to take a backseat to anybody is in net."
Not only will Team USA have one of the NHL's hottest goaltenders on its 23-man roster in Buffalo's Ryan Miller
, but it will also have the winning goalie from this year's Winter Classic -- Boston's Tim Thomas.
"Right now, in my opinion, Ryan Miller
is the best goaltender in the NHL," Burke said. "And Tim Thomas, right now, is probably playing just as well. It's going to be a coaching decision who to start. The schedule lends itself early to a one-goalie tournament. We're playing every other night, there are no back-to-backs initially, so it screams for a one-goalie system."
Burke knows his team is not among the favorites.
Right now, in my opinion, Ryan Miller is the best goaltender in the NHL. Tim Thomas, right now, is probably playing just as well. It's going to be a coaching decision who to start. The schedule lends itself early to a one-goalie tournament. We're playing every other night, there are no back-to-backs initially, so it screams for a one-goalie system. - Brian Burke
"We're going in as underdogs," he said. "We're confident about that and comfortable with that. All the money is going to be on Canada and Russia and Sweden, to a lesser extent, and that's fine with us."
But is there any added pressure on the United States knowing this year's Olympic Games marks the 30th anniversary of the 1980 Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid?
"The only pressure that I can see on the horizon right now is that the pressure for the Canadian team is massive and unrelenting," Burke said.
At an average age of 26.5, this American squad is the youngest to participate in the Olympics since NHL players were introduced to the Games in 1998. The roster consists of 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goalies.
"We're picking this team and going head-to-head with Canada and going head-to-head with Russia," Burke said. "We can't just take the 23 best. If they did that and we did that, we'd get our butts kicked. If Canada asks Jarome Iginla to play a third-line right wing and check, we're going to need to take a guy who can check better than Jarome Iginla. We also have to hope that our top six forwards get the job done on specialty teams. That's the only way we can beat the odds."
Burke, Team USA Associate General Manager David Poile, USA Hockey's Jim Johannson and fellow NHL GMs Dean Lombardi, Don Waddell, Ray Shero and Paul Holmgren were the architects behind selecting this team. No decision was easy.
"We've been watching these kids, and I think we have a good base," Burke said. "We have to try to pick the team based on a body of work rather than how a player has played at this particular time. A player who had a slow start should not be penalized if he's done good things in the past.
"We stressed character when we were putting this team together and wanted to identify people who would rise to the occasion. We've put together high hockey IQ's and versatile players with good foot speed."
Despite turning the page and selecting a younger squad, Burke is confident new leaders and specialists will emerge. He said a captain and alternates would be named at a later time.
"Guys like David Backes (St. Louis), who plays all three forward positions, can kill penalties and is a big, able-bodied guy is a possibility" Burke said. "Ryan Callahan (New York Rangers) has great foot speed, hits and is also a good penalty-killer. He's the top five in hits among forwards -- both Backes and Callahan are two specialists that screamed at us to take them."
Burke also likes the veteran corps his team possesses, including Jamie Langenbrunner, Mike Komisarek and Chris Drury.
"We think we have the leadership component we need," Burke said.