The executive director of USA Hockey, Dave Ogrean, says the sport is going to be center stage when “hockey-mad” Canada drops the puck in Vancouver on Feb. 13.
In a conference call with members of the media this week, Ogrean described 2010 as a “special time” for hockey—a time when a number of stories will play out on the ice in Vancouver later this month.
“It’s the 50th anniversary of our 1960 gold medal team in Squaw Valley and it is the 30th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid from 1980,” he said. But the stories don't just stop there.
There is Mark Johnson, the leading scorer on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, coaching the women’s team and there’s Ryan Suter, son of gold medal winner Bob Suter, making his Olympic debut.
There’s also Angela Ruggiero and mother-of-two Jenny Potter playing in their fourth consecutive Women’s Olympic ice hockey tournament, and there’s a bunch of young players on the team that people are going to see for the first time, such as identical Lamoureux twins, Jocelyne and Monique.
And then there’s Al Michaels returning to call the Winter Olympics for the first time in 22 years, having not called the hockey tournament since Calgary in 1988. It was Michaels, of course, who provided the memorable commentary in Lake Placid 30 years ago.
“Eleven seconds, you've got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
Ogrean believes the tournament will capture the imagination of the worldwide audience, and he insists that, while Canada will start the tournament as strong favorites in both the men’s and women’s competition, Team USA will enter with a lot of confidence.
Ogrean said: “We are really excited about the hockey tournament in Vancouver, and I don’t just say that because it’s every four years. We are going to a country where I think Canada is going to be putting hockey front and center stage like it hasn’t been in the Olympics for a long, long while, if ever.
“We are used to going to Europe and to other countries where usually it is alpine skiing or figure skating, but you are going to see a hockey-mad nation if you have never been up to Canada for a major international tournament, and we are looking forward to that.
“We’ve had a great year and we have a lot of momentum heading into these Games. We have won seven major international championships in the last year, we have won gold medals in four of the five major IIHF world championships, and the gold at the most recent sledge hockey tournament world championships.”
Despite recent successes, Ogrean knows it will take more than the stars aligning to repeat their gold medal performance. After all, Team USA has only won one Olympic hockey medal since 1980. Ogrean believes that it is because of the international depth of talent.
“We do not go up there with anything but enormous respect for the competition,” he said. “For those of you that have not counted it out, in three Olympic games with the NHL players, six different countries have played in the gold medal game. It is exceptionally balanced: Russia, the Czechs, Canada, the United States, Sweden, and Finland have all played in a gold medal game.
“I think the pressure on Canada is relentless right now, but they are the clear favorites in both the men’s and women’s hockey. They are going to be extremely difficult to beat on home ice, but we are going in with a team that is very, very different on the men’s side than people have seen in the recent past.
“It’s a new generation of players. [The selection committee] has put together an intriguing younger, faster roster than people are used to seeing.”
Team USA will not head north of the border at full strength though. New Jersey Devils’ defenseman Paul Martin has already been ruled out after he failed to recover from a broken forearm in time to get enough match practice under his belt, and Toronto’s Mike Komisarek is also likely to miss out because of a shoulder injury.
Ogrean said that while the team does not have to formally submit its final rosters until they physically check into the Olympic village, the management team made the decision to set a bar of having to play a certain number of games before the Games began. While he did not reveal the exact number, he said the decision of who was in and who was out would be made by Feb. 7.
“The management team are going to have to make some decisions on whether to keep them on the roster or to replace them with other players who are under consideration,” he said. “That decision is something they will have to be making by this coming weekend.”
With two key blueliners likely absent, players like Captain Jamie Langenbrunner will have to step up even more.
“He’s a veteran of our program,” Ogrean added, “He’s played on several of our national teams in the past and just knowing how he has approached the captain’s title since it was given to him a few weeks ago, I like that selection a lot. He will bring a lot of really good leadership to this team and keep these guys focused on the task.”
• Team USA’s women’s team will play their opening Group B match on Sunday, Feb. 14, against China on day three of the Games. The men will open their competition on Tuesday, Feb. 16 against Group A opponents Switzerland.