Team USA announces 23-man Olympic roster
When U.S. goaltender Rick DiPietro looks out from his crease at the Turin Olympics, he'll see a defenseman nearly twice his age protecting him.
Team USA Goalies Rick DiPietro, Islanders; Robert Esche, Flyers; John Grahame, Lightning Defensemen Chris Chelios, Red Wings; Derian Hatcher, Flyers; Jordan Leopold, Flames; John-Michael Liles, Avalanche; Aaron Miller, Kings; Brian Rafalski, Devils; Mathieu Schneider, Red Wings Forwards Jason Blake, Islanders; Erik Cole, Hurricanes; Craig Conroy, Kings; Chris Drury, Sabres; Brian Gionta, Devils; Scott Gomez, Devils; Bill Guerin, Stars; Mike Knuble, Flyers; Mike Modano, Stars; Mark Parrish, Islanders; Brian Rolston, Wild; Keith Tkachuk, Blues; Doug Weight, Blues
That is the long and short -- make that the young and old -- of the U.S. Olympic hockey team revealed Monday night in St. Paul, Minn.
The Islanders' 24-year-old goaltender was the youngest player chosen by general manager Don Waddell. Defenseman Chris Chelios will be 44 by the time the first puck drops next February in Italy.
"A defenseman that's only two years younger than me?" Waddell said. "No, I did not imagine that when we started this whole process."
All three U.S. goaltenders are Olympic newcomers, making that key position the team's biggest question mark.
Of the remaining 20 players -- 13 forwards and seven defenseman -- 11 have been to the Olympics, including two four-time participants and four making their third trips. All 23 players are in the NHL.
One noticeable omission on defense is Boston's Brian Leetch, a two-time Norris Trophy winner and three-time Olympian who missed time earlier this season with a knee injury.
"We did a rating system all year and these guys deserved to be here," Waddell said. "It wasn't that Brian was a bad player or anything like that; it was just that these guys performed better."
"I know nobody on that team has more points in the National Hockey League than me. So if they want to go that way, good luck," Roenick said.
Waddell met with assistant GM Paul Holmgren and the rest of his staff Sunday night to make the final decisions. Defense and goaltending sparked the most debate.
"We said all along that we were going to base this team on not so much what was the history of players ... but how guys were actually playing," Waddell said.
Chelios, a Detroit defenseman, made his Olympic debut in 1984 and returned in 1998 and 2002 when NHL players were permitted to play.
"He's the ultimate competitor," Waddell said.
USA Hockey was the first national federation to announce its roster. Team Canada will be next on Wednesday, and the remaining countries in the 12-nation tournament will make their selections known later this week -- the deadline set by the International Ice Hockey Federation.
“ I know nobody on that team has more points in the National Hockey League than me. So if they want to go that way, good luck. ” — Jeremy Roenick, on being left off the Olympic roster
For the third time, the NHL is taking a lengthy break to allow its players to take part in the Olympics.
"Not only do we feel we have a lot of speed and the grit, but enough scoring," Waddell said. "We think our depth on defense is as good as it's ever been. And when you get in these short tournaments, a hot goaltender can lead you a long ways."
Modano leads the Stars with 30 points in 30 games, while Weight holds the Blues lead with 23 points in their first 27 games.
The U.S. finished well out of the medal round the first time NHLers went to the Olympics and left Japan in disgrace after causing property damage. The Americans rebounded on home ice in 2002, losing the gold medal match to Canada.
New Jersey spark plug Brian Gionta, who at 5-foot-7 has benefited greatly by the NHL's new rules that will be used in the Olympics, and fellow small speedster Jason Blake of the Islanders will be making their first Olympic appearances. Mark Parrish was the third New York player chosen.
"I think you're going to see a pretty fast-paced, competitive team," said coach Peter Laviolette, a former Islanders coach.
Besides the Islanders, Philadelphia and New Jersey also had three players chosen.
St. Louis left winger Keith Tkachuk hopes to make his fourth Olympic appearance in red, white and blue -- but that depends on his knuckles, which are black and blue. Tkachuk is expected to miss four to six weeks after being struck in the right hand by a puck last Friday.
Injured players can be replaced until Feb. 10, and teams can bring a three-player taxi squad to Italy in case players are knocked out.
Tkachuk and Chelios would be the first four-time Olympians in U.S. hockey history. Once he plays, Chelios -- the captain of the 2002 squad -- will be the third-oldest player in the history of Olympic hockey.
"If you would've said 10 years ago that I'd be playing at this level, I would've doubted it very much," Chelios said.
Gionta leads the Devils with 33 points -- including 18 goals -- in 32 games, while Cole has 25 points for the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes.
The defense corps is a mix of old and young, starting with Chelios and ending with 25-year-old players Jordan Leopold (Calgary) and John-Michael Liles (Colorado). They are joined by Philadelphia's Derian Hatcher and Detroit's Mathieu Schneider -- 1998 returnees -- and Aaron Miller (Los Angeles) and Brian Rafalski (New Jersey), holdovers from 2002.
DiPietro is likely to receive the bulk of the time in goal since the American team opens against Latvia on Feb. 15. He went 12-10-2 with a 3.18 goals-against average in his first 26 games this season. Philadelphia's Robert Esche has battled inconsistency and injury so far this season, and he is currently sidelined by a nagging groin injury.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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