Olympics: New-look U.S. hockey roster picked
AP Hockey Writer
Not since NHL players started going to the Olympics 12 years ago has the U.S. team featured so many fresh faces.
Of the 23 players chosen Friday for next month's games, only New York Rangers captain Chris Drury, New Jersey counterpart Jamie Langenbrunner and Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski will carry Olympic experience with them into what could be the most-watched hockey tournament ever.
Aging American stalwarts such as Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk and Scott Gomez will all be able to rest during the long break in February because they were left off the team that will head to Vancouver.
The infusion of up-and-coming players is hardly a surprise. Team USA general manager Brian Burke made it clear last summer is was time to turn the page on those who represented the United States time and time again on the international stage.
"We're going there to win," said Burke, the Toronto Maple Leafs' GM.
He thanked those "warriors" when most veterans weren't invited to the team's orientation camp in August. Modano, the longtime Dallas Stars forward, and Montreal's Gomez were in attendance, but didn't do enough during the first half of the NHL season to earn a spot on the team.
The roster announcement was made at Boston's Fenway Park following the host Bruins' 2-1 overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers in the annual outdoor Winter Classic.
The average age of this year's club is slightly under 26. Rafalski is the oldest player at 36, while 21-year-old Chicago Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane is the youngest. That is quite a change from the former foundation that included then-44-year-old defenseman Chris Chelios four years ago.
Modano played in three Olympics, and Gomez was on the team for the 2006 Turin Games. Langenbrunner will be making his second appearance, but first since 1998, and will be joined by Devils teammates defenseman Paul Martin and fellow forward Zach Parise.
Martin started the season as a virtual lock, but a broken left forearm curtailed his chances. Just when it seemed he would return last week, Martin had a setback in his recovery that made surgery necessary. When it was revealed he would be out another month, it seemed likely he would be kept off the roster.
The Los Angeles Kings are the only other NHL club to place three players on the squad: goalie Jonathan Quick, defenseman Jack Johnson, and forward Dustin Brown.
The Americans' greatest strength could be in goal, where Buffalo Sabres star Ryan Miller is expected to be the No. 1 netminder. Should he falter, reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas of the Bruins will be there to pick up the slack. Behind them is the soon-to-be-23 Quick.
"I've been waiting 30 years for this opportunity. I couldn't be happier," Thomas said after beating the Flyers.
That trio should match up favorably with host Canada's formidable goalie crew of Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury and Roberto Luongo. Brodeur is the NHL career leader in wins and shutouts.
"The goaltending position was probably the easiest one for us to get through," Burke said. "It's one where we've got some depth.
"We're excited about our chances."
Miller missed the Olympics four years ago because of a thumb injury that kept him out early in the 2005-06 season, but he is making up for that. Heading into Friday, he had a 21-8-3 record with a sparkling 2.05 goals-against average in 33 games.
"He has played really well, unfortunately several of those games have been against us," Burke said.
The 25-year-old Parise will be counted on for offense. He is coming off a season in which he had 45 goals and 94 points. So far this season, Parise has 17 goals and 25 assists. He had gone 12 games without a goal before busting out with two Monday in New Jersey's win over Atlanta.
He will be joined up front by St. Louis' David Backes, Drury's Rangers teammate Ryan Callahan, Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto's Phil Kessel, Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone, San Jose's Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks, and Colorado's Paul Stastny.
The remaining defensemen are Erik Johnson of St. Louis, Toronto's Mike Komisarek, Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and Nashville's Ryan Suter.
Suter's father, Bob, was a defenseman on the 1980 U.S. "Miracle on Ice" team that won gold at Lake Placid, N.Y.
"It means a ton with the family tradition. I don't think it has sunk in yet," Ryan Suter said. "I will be able to sit at the same table with those guys if I bring some hardware home."
The United States hasn't captured the gold since 1980, and has only a 2002 silver medal since NHL players started going to the Olympics for the 1998 Nagano Games. The Americans finished eighth in Turin.
"Obviously, they pick you for a reason. I think everybody on the team is an important piece," Suter said. "I credit guys like Chelios, Tkachuk, my uncle (Gary Suter) and (Jeremy) Roenick, all those guys paved the way for us and put USA Hockey on the map in the Olympics. I'm just excited to be a part of that now."
This year's team will be led by Toronto coach Ron Wilson. His assistants are Rangers coach John Tortorella and the New York Islanders' Scott Gordon.
Burke was joined by fellow NHL GMs David Poile (Nashville), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), Don Waddell (Atlanta), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles), Ray Shero (Pittsburgh), along with Jim Johannson, the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, in choosing the roster.
"We had some difficult decisions to make, but that's a credit to USA Hockey and depth of the player pool in our country," Burke said.