After digging deep into their own pockets to take care of insurance issues raised by the NHLPA, the players attending Team USA's Olympic orientation camp this week won't lose any sleep over long-term injury concerns.
But they still might need night lights and a bed time story.
The three-day camp that opens today in Woodridge, Ill. doesn't represent a simple changing of the guard for American hockey. Outside of a few notable exceptions, this is
The 34-boy, er, man roster compiled for this camp by GM
Not that those roles are at stake this week in the suburbs of Chicago. In fact, it's safe to say that no jobs will be won or lost at the camp. The three-day event is geared toward discussing the details of the Olympic tournament and the systems to be employed by the team rather than any kind of selection process. As Burke has said, spots will be earned during the first three months of the season. The guys at camp have no guarantees, and those who aren't there have plenty of time to prove him wrong.
But don't expect too many greybeards to get sized up for a snazzy new team jacket when all is said and done. The absence of American stalwarts like
Burke may be a master of manipulating the media but he wasn't sandbagging when he said, "There's not going to be a penny bet on us in Vegas." He could assemble a team with the grit, talent and, more importantly, goaltending to surprise anyone who takes them lightly, but the Americans aren't playing to win gold this year.
Sure, stranger things have happened (I still can't figure out why
The truth is this tournament comes at an inopportune moment for the Americans. The heroes of the 1996 World Cup win are too long in the tooth to keep up with the Crosbys and Ovechkins of the world and the next wave isn't quite ready for its close-up. But with talent like the sublime
But it's more than simply a matter of turning over the roster. Give Burke credit. He's learned a lesson from Hockey Canada's success at convincing stars to play for the maple leaf on the front of the jersey. If he can get this young group in lockstep, focused on the team concept -- something past American sides haven't always been willing to do -- then this camp and eventually this tournament will serve as stepping stones toward future success.
But even if it's the best call for the American program, it's also a gamble. Though there will be World Cups and World Championships on the international schedule, this may be the end of the line for pro participation in the Winter Olympics. The players would love to take part in the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, but that tournament could feature amateurs unless the NHLPA negotiates for the right to attend as part of the next CBA. Given the clear lack of support from team owners for shutting down the NHL during the heart of the season, the battle could go either way. And if the young Americans get kicked around, the chances of getting the league on board go right out the window.
But Burke can't worry about that. Instead, he and the American staff will focus on cultivating that pack mentality through a pair of brief on-ice sessions and plenty of off-ice interaction because it's absolutely the right approach to take.
He just has to remember not to keep the kids up too late.
The following players were invited to the orientation camp for Team USA. All are expected to be on hand though Kessel is unable to take part in on-ice activities: