Team choices leaning toward youth

Updated: June 30, 2009, 7:51 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

St. Louis Blues defenseman Erik Johnson, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury, was among 34 players invited to the U.S. men's Olympic hockey camp Tuesday for next year's Vancouver Games.

Johnson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft, tore two ligaments in his right knee last September during a team golf outing. He is expected to be ready for training camp and make a full recovery.

The first step in his return will take place Aug. 17-19, when USA Hockey holds its Olympic orientation camp in Woodridge, Ill. The gathering is part of the preparation for the Winter Olympics in February.

Those invited Tuesday to the camp represent 22 NHL teams, but no one is assured of a place on the Olympic roster. Also, a player can still make the team even if he hadn't been invited to the camp.

There will be an additional 50 or so players added to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency program, making them eligible to be on the final Olympic roster when it is announced at the end of the year.

"The entire team will come out of this camp if we've done our job of identifying players properly," Team USA general manager Brian Burke said during a conference call. "My suspicion is that, knowing how competitive our athletes are, that's not going to be the case. Some of these guys who were not invited are going to try to jam it right down my throat. I welcome that.

"My prediction is that a couple of guys are going to make this real hard for us."

Five players who will be in attendance in August have Olympic experience, including three-time Olympian Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars. He is joined by two-time Olympians Chris Drury of the New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski.

Canadiens forward Scott Gomez and Jamie Langenbrunner of the New Jersey Devils both have made one Olympic appearance.

But the group is significantly younger than the previous Olympic squad. The final roster for the 2006 Torino Games had 13 players who were age 30 or over. The Olympic orientation roster has only six.

"We're going to be an underdog in Vancouver, we know that," Burke said. "There is not going to be a penny bet on us in Las Vegas. We're probably going to be the youngest team in the tournament ... but we are going there to win and we've tried to identify a group that will give us our best chance to do that."

Notably absent are Olympic stalwarts such as forwards Bill Guerin, Keith Tkachuk, Jason Blake, and 47-year-old defenseman Chris Chelios.

Guerin, who had a strong playoff performance in helping the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup, is still on the USA Hockey radar, as is Tkachuk, who scored 25 goals with St. Louis last season.

Burke said he reached out to several Olympic veterans he repeatedly referred to as "warriors" to explain the committee's decision to leave them off the invite list. He said Guerin told him he understood the desire to move on to younger players who haven't yet had a chance to shine on the international stage.

"We've turned to the same group for the last 15 years, and they've always shown up and played with heart and desire," Burke said. "We owe these guys. [Modano's] production has fallen off, but his usefulness as a player has not. It's just that his role has changed, and he's accepted that cheerfully."

Also missing from the list is goalie Rick DiPietro of the New York Islanders, who played the majority of the games at the 2006 Torino Olympics. DiPietro has had numerous injuries, including one to his knee that forced him to miss most of last season.

"It's my understanding he will not be available for this camp at any rate based on his injury," Burke said.

"The entire team will come out of this camp if we've done our job of identifying players properly," Burke said on a conference call. "My suspicion is that, knowing how competitive our athletes are, that's not going to be the case. Some of these guys who were not invited are going to try to jam it right down my throat. I welcome that.

"My prediction is that a couple of guys are going to make this real hard for us."

Boston's Tim Thomas, the winner of the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie this past season, headlines a trio invited to the camp and is likely the favorite for Vancouver.

He will be joined by Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, and 22-year-old Jonathan Quick, who was 21-18-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average in 44 games as a rookie last season with the Los Angeles Kings.

Zach Parise of the Devils, who had 45 goals and 94 points last season, is among 19 invited forwards. Chicago Blackhawks young star Patrick Kane, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft, also will take part in the camp. Twelve defenseman were among those invited.

The Olympic team will be led by Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who was also behind the American bench at this year's world championships. Eight players invited to the orientation camp were on that squad.

Wilson's assistants behind the bench will be Rangers coach John Tortorella and New York Islanders coach Scott Gordon.

The people involved in choosing the players were Burke, the Maple Leafs' general manager; fellow GMs David Poile (Nashville), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), Don Waddell (Atlanta), Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles) and Ray Shero (Pittsburgh); along with Jim Johannson, the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey.

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