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WOODRIDGE, Ill. -- The Nasty Boys can pretty much book their Olympic tickets.
David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Kesler play the kind of game Team USA GM Brian Burke adores -- a borderline, physical nature that all but guarantees their spot on the 23-man 2010 squad. Burke dropped the names of Backes, Kesler and Brown on Wednesday when asked about the kind of players he believes he must have on this squad.
"We're going to need that element to be successful. We know that," said Burke, whose 2007 Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks led the NHL in fighting majors.
"His history shows that he likes a guy with an edge to his game and a little dirtiness," Backes, smiling, said Wednesday as the U.S. camp wrapped up.
The Americans may not score enough goals next February, but they'll get their pound of flesh from the opposition, win or lose.
Of the three, Brown has the most polish. He's tallied 57 goals over the past two NHL seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, but he's just as apt to skate over a player as he is around him.
"I got to watch way too much of Dustin Brown the last few years in Anaheim," said Burke, the former Ducks GM now with the Maple Leafs. "He's a pain in the ass. He's a good player and he's a big body that hits and plays with a high level of belligerence, which I like. And so, to me, there's a guy who can play up and down and play on the fourth line or he can play on the first line."
Brown smiled when we relayed Burke's comment to him.
"I definitely have a physical nature in my game," said Brown.
But he's also worked at refining his game, Brown added, at not just running around looking for hits but being more judicious in his approach.
"I just look to finish my checks when I have the opportunity and at the same time not get out of position offensively," said Brown. "That's something I've learned over the years."
Kesler, a Selke Trophy nominee last season, may not get the kind of attention he deserves among U.S. hockey fans because he plays in Vancouver, but he's a terrific two-way guy and Burke said his management staff didn't hesitate one second in inviting him to camp.
"He was a first-ballot guy," said Burke, who drafted Kesler when he was Canucks GM. "There was no discussion [debate] about Ryan Kesler. He was here. This is a valuable guy. He's got tremendous foot speed, he's ornery, he's hard to play against, but he's skilled as well.
"To me, I wouldn't say he's a lock, but certainly he's a guy that I think people can expect to see in Vancouver."
Kesler thrives on getting other teams to hate him. Problem is, he made Backes and Brown part of those foes in the NHL. Oops.
"[Team USA coach] Ron Wilson was giving me crap out there about not agitating here," Kesler said with a laugh. "I told him I had to make some friends on the team before pissing them off during the season again.
"It's weird playing with these guys out here. They definitely hate me during the season."
Said Backes: "It's one of those things where you'd love to drive that guy through the boards when you're playing against each other. But that's the best part of this game; you can fight him or run him through the boards, you can knock him down, but after the game, you smile and shake each other's hand.
"We're not going to like each other when we are wearing opposing jerseys, but if it happens that we're all wearing red, white and blue in February, it's going to be an all-for-one type of mentality."
Backes, the biggest of the three at 6-foot-3 and 216 pounds, exploded with a 31-goal campaign last season and grabbed Burke's attention. There are few players that get more liberally mentioned in interviews by Burke than the Blues forward.
"It's good to have your name on his lips, but there's definitely nothing set in stone," said Backes. "We got the beginning of the season to prove we belong."
Don't fret, young Mr. Backes. The Nasty Boys are on this team.