Examine the roster for next month’s U.S. Olympic orientation camp and it’s instantly apparent that a significant portion of the players are young – some even so young that they have yet to truly establish themselves at the NHL level. That’s exactly the way USA Hockey wants it.
Of the 48 players invited, a third were born in the 90s and five in that sample are under the age of 21. Many in that group might not have a realistic shot of making the final 25-man roster that hits the ice in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but at this stage giving them a taste of what lies in store with the national team is important to USA Hockey’s long-term strategy.
“We’re inviting a lot of these younger players, really wanted a component of that,” U.S. General Manager David Poile said on a conference call Tuesday. “If they’re not better than somebody right now, that’s fine. We’ve got other guys. But just part of the whole USA philosophy in terms of certainly our focus on Sochi but also looking a little bit to the future.
“We want to have a look at these guys vs. the more veteran guys, if you will,” Poile said. “We’ll see if one of them emerges and gets a spot. I think it’s very interesting that they’re going to be at the camp.”
Poile, who is also General Manager of the Nashville Predators and formerly held the same position with the Capitals, said that he and assistant general manager Ray Shero sought to reward success on the international stage when determining whom to invite to the orientation camp. That success ranges from the world junior championship, world championship or previous Olympic participation.
While 16 players invited to this summer’s camp won silver medals at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and are expected to anchor the Sochi squad the door is certainly open for newcomers to earn a place in the lineup.
“There’s a lot of guys that played on the 2010 team, based on their body of work, that deserve to be on the 2014 team. By all rights, that’s probably what’s going to happen,” Poile said. “But we do have a number of spots open, and the good news is we have a lot of quality players that are going to be vying for these few positions. I’d love to see one of these younger players emerge and capture a spot. That would be fabulous.”
Capitals defenseman John Carlson, 23, is among the younger invitees. During the 2010 World Junior Championships, the New Jersey native scored a pair of goals including the game-winner in the decisive contest leading the U.S. to the gold medal with a 6-5 win over Canada. He’s since become one of Washington’s top-four defensemen and despite experiencing some growing pains in each of the past two seasons, Carlson’s blend of defense and offensive ability could make him a contender for a spot.
That said, Carlson will need to earn his way onto the roster for Sochi with a strong first half in the 2013-14 NHL season.
What could help Carlson’s case, though, is the Poile’s quest to emphasize strong skaters in an effort to help the team adapt to the larger, European ice surface better than it did in Torino (2006) and Nagano (1998). The U.S. failed to medal in either of those Olympics, but took silver in Salt Lake City (2002) and Vancouver (2010) when playing on North American sized rinks.
“Under Brian Burke’s leadership in 2010, he worked with us and our group to come up with a philosophy. He used words like truculence and grit…. Our philosophy and our strategy is going to change a little bit,” Poile said. “If it’s a skating component vs. a physical component, whether it’s just a different type of player that we’ve overlooked before, these are the type of decisions that we’re going to have to make.”
>> A reminder that the Olympic orientation camp at KCI in Arlington on Aug. 26-27 will not feature on-ice practices for players because of insurance costs as was previously reported. Poile called the cost to insure the players’ NHL contracts “ridiculous” on the conference call.
>> While there won’t be on-ice practices, Aug. 27 will be open to the public and feature several activities including the unveiling of the 2014 U.S. Olympic jerseys and player autographs. More details to come in August.