Drury's role sends message to US team
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The United States-Switzerland game was almost five minutes old Tuesday, and all four forward lines had hit the ice for the Americans, but there was Chris Drury still glued to the bench.
The 13th forward at the Olympic Games.
All of which will only continue to fuel the anger among many ESPN.com readers, who have railed against his inclusion on the 2010 Olympic team from the get-go.
And I will say this: For all the talk from Team USA management and coaching staff that this team was built around a cog such as Drury, having him start the Olympic Games as the 13th forward certainly didn't send the same message. In fact, it only reinforces the belief from some critics that young T.J. Oshie should have been on this team. Surely, the Blues star could have handled the 13th forward job.
But let me say this: There's a positive flip side to what coach Ron Wilson decided to do with Drury. When you have a 33-year-old veteran with Drury's international experience willing to suck it up for the team and accept a diminished role, it sends a message to a youthful squad: No one is bigger than the team.
"Chris has been around for a while," said young Team USA leader Dustin Brown. "He's been part of a lot of winning teams, and he knows what it takes to win. Everyone has done a really good job of checking their ego at the door, and he's at the top of that list.
"I'm sure he'd like to play more, but if killing penalties and being the 13th forward will help this team win, anybody would do it, and he's definitely a great example of that."
It only works, of course, if the player in question truly accepts his demotion. It seemed clear to me Drury had no issue with it whatsoever. He played a team-low 9:55 Tuesday.
"It's about winning, it's not about ice time," Drury told ESPN.com after the game. "We will do whatever Coach Wilson and [GM Brian Burke] wants us to do. That's the bottom line."
Wilson knew the question was coming. Drury's selection to the team had been questioned by many, so the U.S. coach knew what people would make of his starting the veteran in such a reduced role.
"Dru will do anything to help your team win," Wilson said. "We talked yesterday at practice that I saw his role as a primary penalty killer and then I would fit him in and keep him involved. He's accepting of that. He's the one guy that, almost to a man, you guys [the media] have questioned as to why he's on the team. He's there because of the way he played today. He's going to do the little detailed grunt work.
"We've got plenty guys that can score, and he can still score. But we need people dedicated to being on the right side of the puck 100 percent of the time and to lead by example. We've got so many young guys, having his voice and experience in the room is huge."
Wilson was not done. He's a savvy, veteran coach, and he came to his postgame news conference prepared for the "Drury question."
"Throughout his career and actually his whole life, the bigger the moment, the better Chris Drury plays. Everybody knows that," Wilson said. "At some point in this tournament, I think he's going to be a hero for us in one of these games. I know this is going to be corny, but he reminds me of a Mike Eruzione-type player. I'm not saying if we get to the gold-medal [game] that it's going to be Dru who is going to score, but he's that type of person. The glue in the room."
Whether he's the glue in the room or glued to the bench, I believe Drury when he says he's OK with it. His pride in wearing Team USA colors is genuine. These two weeks are a chance to help erase a frustrating NHL season, and perhaps atone for the 2006 Games.
"Honestly, to wear your country's jersey is such a thrill and to do it for a third time, certainly at this stage of my career and my life, it's special," Drury said. "I get to share this with my kids this time. In Salt Lake, I wasn't even married. So there's a lot of exciting things here over the next two weeks."
In what may or may not be his last Olympics, Drury also gets to pass the baton. You can say what you want about how he has played for the New York Rangers, but no one can argue that he hasn't answered the bell for his country time and time again, and done it well. Now, he proudly looks on as the next generation of young American stars takes the national team to a new level.
"It's very exciting," Drury said. "I was sitting on the bench today watching some of the guys that play out west that I don't get to see a lot. You know they're good, but to see guys like [Ryan] Suter, [Patrick] Kane and [Joe] Pavelski do their thing, it's pretty exciting to be part of."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.