Brian Burke isn't the symphony type—he probably thinks Beethoven's Fifth is something potable—but he views a hockey team as an orchestra. When Burke, general manager of Team USA, named his 23-man Olympic roster on New Year's Day, he suggested that from the first violin to the tuba player in the back row, everyone must play in concert for any of them to have success in Vancouver. The Americans might be shy of virtuosos compared to the Canadians or the dashing Russians, but backstopped by Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, the NHL's best in 2009--10, the U.S. is capable of an A-Liszt (excuse us, A-list) performance next month.
These are Burke's guys, chosen from the 34 players invited to an August orientation camp, where they worked on team-building as much as breakout patterns. Certainly it took brass to exclude Blackhawks freight train Dustin Byfuglien, at 6'4" and 257 pounds, a unique blend of size and speed—but the U.S. is loaded at right wing, and commitment has never been Byfuglien's strong suit.
Not that Burke had much choice, but in choosing dynamos such as 24-year-old Ryan Callahan (the bite-sized Rangers winger ranked fourth in the NHL in hits through Sunday) and two under-24 defensemen named Johnson—Jack of the Kings and Erik of the Blues—Team USA cut ties with the 1996 World Cup, which had defined, and shackled, hockey in the U.S. for a generation. As long as players who won that championship remained marquee names in the NHL (Bill Guerin, Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk), USA Hockey didn't dare leave them off even as they neared or passed their expiration dates. The oldest American in Vancouver will be Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski, 36, one of only three previous U.S. Olympians. (Rangers center Chris Drury and Devils winger Jamie Langenbrunner are the others.)
The last link to American hockey's greatest generation is coach Ron Wilson, who works under Burke with the Maple Leafs. Wilson can be hit-or-miss. He cajoled Team USA to a pair of victories over the host Canadians in the fabled World Cup two years before his American side failed to win a medal in the village-rumpus Nagano debacle. Few coaches can as quickly galvanize a thrown-together tournament team. "I cut right to the chase," says Wilson. "You just focus on a couple of details in a tournament like this, five or six, and hammer them home rather than overcoach."
January 11, 2010
After the discordant note of an eighth-place finish at Turin in 2006, the sounds coming from the Burke Philharmonic should be sweeter in Vancouver.
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