USA hockey team expects to be a favorite in Sochi

The U.S. hockey team has flipped the script since the last

Winter Olympics.

The Americans expect to be a favorite 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 defenseman 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 defensemen 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.”

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