Drury, veterans show their mettle

Monday February 22nd, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The average age of Team USA is 26.5. The average age of its goal scorers in Sunday's 5-3 victory over Canada? 32. And if you don't count Ryan Kesler, who knocked in an empty-netter in the last minute of the game, the number is actually over 34. So for all those who questioned the callowness of the U.S., it turns out just a little bit of experience can go a long way.

Thirtysomethings Chris Drury, Jamie Langenbrunner and Brian Rafalski, the only U.S. players with previous Olympic experience, were instrumental in pulling the Americans up and over a Canadian team that hasn't quite responded to the massive pressure it is carrying in these Games. It wasn't 21-year-old Patrick Kane or 22-year-old Phil Kessel, with their youthful and dazzling skill, that earned the U.S. its first Olympic victory over Canada since 1960. It was the grinding, workmanlike play of the veterans, the guys who have been around long enough to know how to win big games like these.

"It says some good things about us," says Drury, 33. "The three of us are glad we're here and glad we can help out."

If you can believe it, Drury is even more understated on the ice than he is in interviews. The New York Rangers center may not be flashy, but he has a tremendous ability to recognize the moment of opportunity. In eight NHL postseasons, Drury has knocked in 17 game-winning goals, most of any active player, and he's tied for second all-time with four overtime playoff goals. Drury had 11 goals in 23 games during the Colorado Avalanche's run to the Stanley Cup in 2001, second only to teammate Joe Sakic. Such inspired performances on the big stage are how he got the nickname Captain Clutch.

It had been awhile since the old Drury had been spotted, but we got a glimpse of it tonight as he scored the U.S.' third, pivotal goal to take the lead in the middle of the second period. Camped out at the right side of the crease, Drury took advantage of a scrambling Martin Brodeur and buried the loose puck. It was his second goal in two games, and sweet satisfaction in the face of critics who wondered why he'd made the roster in the first place.

Last month, The National Post headlined a story: "If Drury's not Team USA's captain or an assistant, why is he there?" The always-outspoken Jeremy Roenick, an old Team USA vet, told a Toronto radio station that he was "baffled" by the decision to include Drury on the 23-man roster.

By way of reasoning, Team USA general manager Brian Burke said: "We picked Chris Drury because he's Chris Drury." What exactly that meant was a mystery only to those who don't play on a line with him night in and night out. "I don't think it's fair the criticism Dru gets in New York," says Rangers winger and teammate Ryan Callahan. "He goes out there every night and lays it on the line, and I think it's pretty nice to kind of be able to give a smile to those critics and say, 'What do you have to say now?' It's nice. I'm really glad for him."

Adds U.S. coach Ron Wilson, "He has those -- well, I'll say it -- Mike Eruzione-type qualities. [He's] diving in front of shots, blocking them, winning big face-offs, doing a lot of dirty grunt work that often gets overlooked. But not by coaches."

On the game's biggest stage, Drury is the same player he is every night. No, wait -- he's better.

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