ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. hockey team has flipped the script since the last Winter Olympics.
The Americans expect to be a favourite to win gold in six months at the Sochi Games after saying they were underdogs in 2010, when they won silver and were a goal away from knocking off the host Canadians.
"The only people that thought we had a chance were probably the guys in the locker room, or our coaches and management of USA Hockey," Chicago Blackhawks star forward Patrick Kane said Monday. "This time, it’s different."
USA Hockey invited 48 of its top prospects — including 16 players from its 2010 team — for off-ice workouts and meetings at the Washington Capitals’ training facility.
"Even though we invited 48 guys, I got calls from a few agents, ‘Why not my guy?’ I get that," said general manager David Poile, whose day job is running the Nashville Predators. "We put some guys on the board that aren’t at this camp that we should be looking at. We’re totally open-minded.
"We have to take the 25 guys that give us the best chance to win."
The players will get picked to play based on their body of work and how well they perform early in the NHL season. The final roster is expected to be announced on Jan. 1 after Detroit and Toronto play in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.
Brian Burke, the team’s general manager in 2010, set up an advisory group to assemble the roster. Poile plans to follow the model over the next four months.
NHL general managers Stan Bowman, Dean Lombardi, Dale Tallon and Paul Holmgren along with scout Don Waddell will assist Poile, Ray Shero, the team’s associate GM, Burke, the team’s director of player personnel and USA Hockey executive Jim Johannson.
"We’ll have much harder decisions to make, picking this team than we had 2010," Burke said. "That’s what you want."
The advisory group met for five hours on Sunday, spending some of that time on talking about a possible roster and some tough decisions it will have to make.
"We have 16 returning Olympians that have a chance to make the team," Poile said. "We’ve got way more depth, and way more quality than we had in 2010."
Six goaltenders were invited to the camp, and three will make the trip to Sochi.
Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller was named MVP of the ice hockey tournament at the Vancouver Games, but he’s not a lock to keep his job because Los Angeles Kings star Jonathan Quick has been perhaps the world’s best at stopping shots the past two seasons. NHL goalies Jimmy Howard, Cory Schneider, Craig Anderson, along with 20-year-old prospect Josh Gibson, also are in the mix.
Miller, despite his performance in 2010, was not named to the team’s leadership group that includes defenceman Ryan Suter and forwards David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan and Zach Parise.
While it would be a big surprise if any of those leaders didn’t end up representing the U.S. in Russia, they don’t have any guarantees.
"Nobody has been given a position," Poile insisted.
Twenty-four forwards and 18 defencemen are attending the pre-Olympic camp, some of whom, such as 18-year-old Seth Jones, are there simply to experience what it is like to be around the country’s best hockey players.
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who succeeds Ron Wilson, said his job is to pass along some information and messages to the players over the course of a few days to get them ready for a quick turnaround at the Sochi Games. The NHL has some games scheduled on Feb. 8, and the Americans — along with the other players in the league from other countries — won’t have much time to prepare for their first game.
"We won’t see these guys for another six months," Bylsma said. "That’s not comfortable for a coach."
Bylsma, though, seems at ease with Team USA publicly liking its chances to win gold for the first time since the Miracle on Ice victory over the Soviet Union in 1980.
"It’s a different expectation and different mindset," he said. "Four years ago, we were under the radar and it certainly was a younger team and didn’t have those expectations. This is a team that largely was in Vancouver and was in the gold-medal game and was a shot away from winning a gold medal.
"Now, the expectation is much different. We’re going over to Sochi, Russia, with the mindset of winning a gold medal."