As the United States prepared for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, the public message from then-general manager Brian Burke portrayed a hockey team in transition. It was a young group, without well-established stars like Chris Chelios, Mike Modano or Mike Richter. Who knew how the team would fare on the largest international stage?
Perhaps Burke’s comments lulled teams into complacency, seeing as that spunky U.S. squad ultimately captured the silver medal in Vancouver.
While the underdog attitude was prevalent four years ago, there is a decidedly different approach this week at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, where USA Hockey has gathered players and managers to prepare for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. This time, they’re embracing greater expectations as bona fide gold medal contenders.
“I know we’re at the point where when we enter any tournament and put on the USA jersey, we expect to win,” said David Poile, general manager of the 2014 Olympic team. “I think that’s where our program is now, I think that’s the quality of our players.”
As much as the U.S. silver-medal performance in Vancouver may have been a surprise to outsiders and odds makers, the 16 players from that team who are among the 48 invited to orientation camp this week believe they are poised to take the next step.
Those who were young in 2010 are now NHL talents in their prime, like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Dustin Brown, Bobby Ryan and Patrick Kane. They are ready to lead and eager to erase memories of that painful overtime loss to Canada.
“After the silver in 2010, you’ve got to expect to go there to win; that’s the only reason you’re there,” said Kane, who has won the Stanley Cup twice and is the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner since capturing silver in Vancouver. “It’s gold or bust for us this time around.”
Part of the confidence stems from the growing success of American hockey at other international competition — in 2012-13, the United States was the only country in the world that medaled in every major international tournament — and a steady influx of young talent that is accustomed to winning.
A third of the players invited to orientation camp were born in the 1990s, and many, including the Capitals’ John Carlson, Carolina’s Justin Faulk, Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk, Chicago’s Brandon Saad and Nashville’s Seth Jones, have been part of a gold medal-winning group at an international tournament. While only a few of the young players at camp may make the final 25-man roster, the goal of USA Hockey is to give them a taste of their future.
“You see some of these young kids that haven’t balanced a checkbook yet in their life and they’re at this camp learning from guys that have been there,” St. Louis Blues center David Backes said. “We’re trying to cultivate this culture that’s a winning culture, do whatever it takes to win. We’re going over there not to participate, get a certificate or have a good experience. We’re there to win, and these young guys get that.”
No longer unexpected upstarts, there’s no doubt in how the Americans view themselves more than five months ahead of Sochi. But players know that they need to live up to their lofty goals so the rest of the international hockey community will view them in the same light.
“We’re not going to surprise anyone anymore, we’re not going to go under anyone’s radar,” Parise said. “But I think we still have some work to do for other countries to consider us as consistently of a threat as the Canadians and Russians. I think there’s room for us to improve there. Hopefully we’re becoming one of the teams that consistently, year in and year out, have a chance to win.”