It’s been a week since the gold medal game in Vancouver. Everyone has gone back to their pre-Olympic lives, including Islanders head coach Scott Gordon. I was lucky enough to catch Gordon in his office between practice and a 1:45pm team meeting to ask a few questions.
As an Islander fan, I was very proud to have our coach hand picked by hockey legend Brian Burke to be on the bench alongside the likes of Ron Wilson, even if it did mean sharing that bench with rival Rangers coach, John Tortorella. It was a trifecta of New England hockey, even if Wilson was born in Ontario and maintains dual citizenship. He grew up in Rhode Island, so it counts.
This was not the first time Scott Gordon was part of an Olympic team. He was on the 1992 squad in Albertville, France, where they finished fourth. Eighteen years later, Team USA finished second with Scott Gordon having a completely different vantage point.
With Rhode Island-born Burke at the helm of Team USA, some of his Olympic selections were criticized, and the team was thought to be too young and not able to get very far in the Vancouver games. The team relished its position of underdog and played well beyond everyone’s expectations. Everyone’s, that is, but Burke’s.
“I think that’s why we were successful. We had a young team and…no one was really tainted. They were excited to be there. I thought our players looked at it more like ‘This is an unbelievable opportunity and I’m excited to be here!’ versus ‘I knew I was going to be here and they would have been crazy not to pick me.’
"I think for our team, that’s what made it special… I think the players that we had in Vancouver were exceptional as far as their attitude and their character. There was nobody that was pouting about ice time. It was a true ‘team’ and great people I think sometimes being in that environment—it can go unappreciated because you’ve done so much in your career.”
The word "special" could also be used to describe some of the American talent to which the world was exposed. I asked Scott Gordon if anyone surprised him on the ice.
“I didn’t know how good Patrick Kane was. His skill, his vision, his ability to make plays. Ryan Kesler was a guy I didn’t know a whole lot about that really impressed me. I was impressed with Chris Drury and what he brought to the table, considering that he was a guy that was questionable whether he should make the team or not, and I thought he acquitted himself well.
"And obviously we had some big performances by our defensemen who stepped up and played well. Really, to get to the silver medal and have a chance to win the gold medal, there were a lot of guys that really stood out for me.”
When Brian Burke was criticized for announcing at the Winter Classic in Boston that 33-year-old Connecticut native Chris Drury had made the 2010 squad, he shrugged it off. Later, when asked about his selection, he would tell reporters, “I picked Chris Drury because he’s Chris Drury.” Burke is nothing but a man of his convictions and obviously one that sees hockey differently than everyone else (just ask a Leafs fan).
With the decidedly low-key New England flavor on the bench of Team USA, only John Tortorella stands out as notoriously loud-mouthed. When I asked him what it was like to work with Tortorella, Gordon gave me a broad smile.
“John’s a very passionate guy. He speaks from the heart and that’s what’s great about him. I think that when it’s all said and done, he wants guys to care as much as he does. I enjoyed the entire time I was with him. I got to know him real well.”
I’m certain there are some NY reporters that wish there was a filter between Tortorella’s heart and his mouth (hello, Larry Brooks). But certainly, he is right in saying that no one can say the Rangers head coach isn’t a passionate guy who cares deeply about this sport.
The unity on the bench was even visible in their attire—something I noticed right away for some reason. I thought that perhaps Ralph Lauren, the official outfitter for Team USA this Olympics, had also outfitted the coaching staff. I was wrong.
“Ron bought all the coaches, GMs, and staff ties.” Paired with navy suits and blue shirts, it was picture- perfect prep-school headmaster attire. Of course, the picture of GM Brian Burke was with a loosened tie and no jacket. But that’s just Burke’s style.
As the coaching staff does not receive medals, I asked what Gordon WOULD get from the Olympic committee for his efforts. “ I dunno,” he said. I laughed as he leaned back in his chair, smiling. “If I don’t get anything, it doesn’t replace the experience.”
Certainly coaching staff should get SOMETHING to commemorate the experience. A certificate, a plaque—something! Because I highly doubt Ron Wilson would ever try to pull what Team Russia coach Viktor Tikhonov tried to pull when he kept goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin’s gold medal because Khabibulin didn’t play in any of the 1992 games. I think Jonathan Quick gets to keep his 2010 silver medal.
I asked Gordon about his feelings on the NHL continuing their participation in the Olympics. He had definite views on the much-debated subject, but since that’s one I have been researching for another article, I will hold onto them for now.
Congratulations, Scott Gordon, on a job well done. Now back to work!