Commentary

Why U.S. team's silver counts

Updated: March 1, 2010, 1:31 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- At some point -- sometime after the sound of "O Canada" stops ringing in their ears -- the American silver medalists will be able to get to that place where they can enjoy the undeniable accomplishments of the past two weeks.

It won't be an easy journey.

Getting so close to the peak, losing 3-2 in overtime in the gold-medal game on Sidney Crosby's quick shot at the 7:40 mark, will make such a journey difficult.

[+] EnlargeBrian Burke
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesGM Brian Burke built a Team USA squad that no one thought would compete for a medal in Vancouver.

"I'll probably never really appreciate it, coming out on this end of it," said U.S. captain Jamie Langenbrunner. "You remember the games you win. You try to forget the ones you lose. In saying that, we're all pretty proud of everybody in our room and what we did do. We did a lot of great things all tournament."

Team USA GM Brian Burke, who sent a text to ESPN.com on Sunday night saying he was proud of his team and the medal it won, built this team as a mason might build a house. His job was different -- not necessarily easier or harder -- than the job that faced Canada's executive director, Steve Yzerman.

Burke, faced with interesting options in terms of experience and talent, opted to build this team as he would an NHL team. He wanted not just stars, but players who could play a role and play it without question or complaint.

He wanted not just players, but teammates. He and his management group got all of that and more with this group.

"When we put this together, we had no idea how competitive we would be," Team USA associate GM David Poile told ESPN.com on Sunday night. "Everything was totally positive. There were no negatives. We were right there with them. [Canada] won by one goal. I thought right down to the end we were going to win."

But if the Americans did not manage to win this game, surely there is victory buried somewhere in the disappointment. And not just a symbolic victory, like, "Oh, you'll have a silver medal to show the grandkids," but something more tangible. Maybe it'll be as simple as some folks buying more tickets to a Predators game next week in Nashville, where Poile is the GM. Or maybe it'll be a kid opting to play hockey instead of something else.

"It was great. It was great for today and it'll be great for tomorrow," Poile said.

Burke, et al, have been vindicated for picking Chris Drury for this team and for declining to name veterans like Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Bill Guerin and others to the squad. They were certainly vindicated after virtually no one in the hockey world picked them to be anywhere near a gold-medal game.

"We're a group of young guys who were written off. We proved we were one shot shy of winning the whole thing," said defenseman Jack Johnson. "We're all very proud of each other. I wish I could be with this group of guys the whole year round. It's the most fun I've ever had playing hockey."

Players who didn't particularly get along when they played with their NHL teams became a cohesive unit.

"It was amazing in two weeks how close the team became," said U.S. defenseman Brooks Orpik, who had his strongest game of the tournament in Sunday's final, slamming people into the boards and at one point into the U.S. bench.

The youngsters -- only Brian Rafalski, Drury and Langenbrunner had been to an Olympics before -- played with incredible poise. They were professional, on and off the ice, and became a team a country could -- and should -- embrace and be proud of.

"The feeling isn't good right now, but from where we came from in August, people were making fun of how many Ryans and Johnsons we had, no one knew our names," Drury said. "People know our names now. It was a pretty exciting two weeks for us. It's going to be fun to watch. USA Hockey is in good hands. Hopefully the NHL can get to Sochi [in 2014] and it would be fun to watch."

And maybe that's the message in the aftermath of this best of all Olympic tournaments that culminated in the best of all Olympic games: Anything is possible.

"I couldn't have asked anything else of our players," said Team USA coach Ron Wilson. "I thought our team played as well as any team I've ever coached."

In some ways, it seemed as though all along the players took their cues from Burke, who went through these Olympics carrying the burden of having buried his son Brendan just weeks before the tournament. Burke spoke of his loss the day he arrived in Vancouver and said he would speak of only hockey moving forward.

"Nobody really knows what he's going through on a daily basis," Poile said.

As his coaching staff stood on the bench and his players on the ice waiting for their silver medals, Burke sat, suit jacket off, tie loosened, on the edge of the American bench. This was his team, built in his image, and they served him and a country well.

In time, the sting of losing this game will surely give way to the understanding much was accomplished by Team USA in Vancouver.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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