Commentary

Road to Vancouver begins for Team USA

Updated: August 17, 2009, 8:46 PM ET
By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

WOODRIDGE, Ill. -- The NHL Players' Association has made it clear it will fight for continued Olympic participation in the next round of collective bargaining with the NHL. But Team USA general manager Brian Burke figures Vancouver will be the fourth and last Olympics with NHL players.

"There's no other business in the world that shuts their doors for two and half weeks in the middle of their season," said Burke. "We've gotten very little benefit from this tournament when it's not in North America. And I realize you just can't go when it's in North America -- the IOC isn't going to put up with that. So, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the last Olympics that NHL players participate. That being said, from the union standpoint, from [executive director] Paul Kelly's viewpoint, it's a real important thing to them. So we'll see."

Burke's solution?

"What I'd like to see is this become a Summer Olympics [event]," said Burke.

As crazy as that sounds, it's not the first time it's been talked about. The old Canada Cups or, most recently, the 2004 World Cup of Hockey were played in September so as not to interfere with the NHL season. Problem is, there's no way the IOC would want to drop one of its premier attractions from the Winter Games. Besides, they've got enough star power on the summer docket as it is and don't need "ice hockey" to complement it.

One of the consistent arguments for the NHL's withdrawal from the Olympics is that shutting down the league for three weeks does more harm than the Olympics do good for the game, specifically the NHL game.

David Poile is the general manager of the Nashville Predators, a team that has struggled to gain a foothold in the local marketplace. Will he be glad if the NHL walks away from the Olympics after 2010?

"Can't I answer it after Vancouver?" joked Poile, who is also the assistant general manager of the 2010 U.S. team. "Let's say it's 1980 and we won the gold medal. You know that the 1980 gold-medal win was the most significant thing that's ever happened in hockey. You know that if you were breathing and living in the United States it had some impact on your life, the people you hung out with, etc., etc.

"It was life-changing, career-changing, not only for the players, but for their friends, for their families, for their cities, for the National Hockey League, for the game of hockey and for the United States. So is that a home run? You're damn right it is a home run."

What if this team captured gold?

"This could be great. What I don't answer is the next part of your question, which is four years from now in Russia," Poile said. "It's hard to duplicate that just because of time zones and other factors. But in Vancouver in 2010 ... to me there's possibly a setup here for something real cool to happen."

Would it make it more difficult to walk away if the Americans pulled off the miracle of upsets and won a gold.

"Definitely," Poile said. "But you see, you're asking me a question today. I don't have my NHL hat on."

A medal team?

Oh, to get a dime every time Brian Burke said nobody will bet a dime on his team to win gold at the Olympics. But he's right; they'll be underdogs, although there's a certain level of parity among the top seven countries.

"When you see when people do their predictions, you'll see a lot of different teams which will be picked as potential medal winners," said Burke. "The Swedes will be awesome, the Czechs are always good. But I think the two big dogs in this tournament are Canada and the Russians. I don't think anybody is going to pick us to win and that's fine. We're going there to win."

Kane receives warm welcome from fans

After making his public apology for his altercation in Buffalo, N.Y., Patrick Kane signed autographs for some of the hundreds of fans who turned out to watch the first day of on-ice workouts at the suburban rink where the U.S. orientation camp is being held.

A capacity 1,250 fans turned out Monday, while a few hundred fans were turned away. Some even camped out Sunday night to ensure a good seat.

USA Hockey officials tried to get Kane to take a break, but he insisted on staying until everyone who wanted an autograph got one.

"It was good to get out there and put everything behind you and skate on the ice in front of some fans," Kane told reporters after the practice. "I saw there were a lot of Kane jerseys in the stands, still a lot of support out there. I saw a Dallas guy up in front booing me pretty good. Sometimes you have to chuckle at things like that. There are probably going to be a lot of comments and jokes the next couple years."

Veteran absence

With Mike Modano, the lone holdover from the great 1996 World Cup team here at camp, Burke wanted to show respect to some of those great U.S. veterans by calling them personally this summer to explain why they didn't make the cut.

"I talked to some of the veteran guys like Keith Tkachuk," Burke said. "I said to him, 'We're not bringing you to camp, but you're very much alive.' We're not closing the door on anybody. A guy that has 25 goals at Christmas time is coming to Vancouver."

Still, we'd be surprised if any of the old veteran core other than Modano made this team.

Old man Jamie

The young faces at the U.S. Olympic camp has automatically made 34-year-old winger Jamie Langenbrunner an old man in this group.

"It kind of sucks being one of the older guys," Langenbrunner said Monday with a laugh. "It's weird walking around and not really knowing a lot of faces anymore. But I guess it shows my age and obviously we've got some really good young players and their time has come."

A brother-sister act in Vancouver?

Although he isn't able to take part in on-ice workouts thanks to offseason shoulder surgery, Phil Kessel was on hand and spent time talking about what could be a brother-sister act at the Vancouver Games. Kessel's younger sister Amanda will be in Blaine, Minn., for the U.S. women's Olympic tryouts this month.

Kessel raved about his younger sister's skills -- "She probably has more skill than me" -- and admitted she's a fiery competitor, whether it's playing Scrabble, or on the ice.

"She's really good for being a girl," Kessel said.

He admits to being biased, but figures his sister is a lock to make the women's Olympic team as they seek to avenge a disappointing bronze-medal finish in Italy in 2006.

The prospect of brother/sister Olympians is an enticing one for the 21-year-old. "We haven't really talked about it but I think it'd be really special," he said.

Kessel's offseason hasn't been the most relaxing as he hasn't been able to begin skating and won't be game-ready until November. He's also had to put up with trade rumors as the restricted free agent has yet to re-sign with the Boston Bruins.

He said the rumors haven't bothered him, but the inactivity is driving him crazy. He is an avid golfer but hasn't been able to play.

The right allegiance

Zach Parise was born and bred in Minnesota, but his dad, former NHLer J.P. Parise, was a Canadian, skating in the famous 1972 Summit Series.

Junior says there's no confusion about allegiances going into Vancouver.

"Just for the record, he's definitely pro-USA now," Parise said with a laugh.

Bittersweet celebration

Like all members of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Rob Scuderi enjoyed personal time with the Stanley Cup. Unlike most of his teammates, the defenseman will be wearing a new jersey come training camp as the free agent signed a four-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings on July 1.

His day with the Cup, July 17, turned out to be an emphatic line of demarcation, separating his old life as a Penguin and his new career as a King.

Scuderi's father is a retired police officer, so the Cup made a visit to a local police station. His mother is a high school teacher on Long Island, so Lord Stanley made a visit to her school. Scuderi, a native of Long Island, also took the Cup to the rink where he played minor hockey growing up.

Scuderi noted the Cup hasn't been a frequent visitor to Long Island since the end of the New York Islanders' dynasty in the early 1980s.

There is a strong Pittsburgh flavor to the defensive corps at the U.S. orientation camp as Scuderi, Brooks Orpik and former teammate Ryan Whitney are all here. Whitney was dealt to Anaheim at the trade deadline and admitted it was bittersweet watching his former teammates hoist the Cup after defeating the Detroit Red Wings in a seventh game.

"I grew up with a lot of those guys," said Whitney, who was drafted by the Penguins. "You see them raising the Cup, it's tough."

Still, he was among the well-wishers, sending text messages to his friends shortly after Game 7.

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.

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