When the whole world is against you and the only people who believe in you are sitting next to you inside the locker room, the world can seem like a pretty lonely place.
Or, if you’re wearing the red, white and blue, playing the role of underdog on the Olympic stage can be a truly liberating feeling. After all, you have history on your side.
As the hockey world continues to give the U.S. Men’s Team the proverbial cold shoulder, this young team is basking in anonymity, happy to leave the attention, and the pressure, for the Russians, Canadians and Swedes to deal with.
In short, the U.S. Men’s Team players has to feel like they are playing with house money.
“Anytime someone thinks you can’t do something, you want to prove them wrong,” said Erik Johnson, one of 19 American players under the age of 30.
“We know that we’re the underdogs in the tournament, and we kind of embrace that role. I think we have a tremendous group of guys in the [locker] room who can get the job done. We have a quiet confidence that will get us far in the tournament.”
These players know how much talent there is within the four walls of the U.S. locker room, and feel like the world has only gotten a taste of the true talent that lies behind the those doors after its 3-1 victory over the Swiss in Tuesday’s Olympic lid lifter.
“It’s really irrelevant what the media or other teams think about us, and whether we’re the underdogs or not,” said forward Dustin Brown. “We know what we’re here to do, and as long as we have that belief system in our room and go about our business in the proper way I think we’ll be fine.”
The tournament is off to a good start. Beating an experienced Swiss team that shocked the Canadians in 2006 and finished ahead of both North American teams is a huge step in the right direction.
There is still plenty of work to be done before the puck drops on their next game on Thursday against Norway. And looming on the horizon is Canada, who got off to a slow start but turned it on in the second and third periods to dismantle Norway, 8-0.
“A win is a win, but we need everyone going and improving for the next game,” said David Backes, who scored the eventual game-winner on a beautiful end-to-end rush early in the second period.
Contributions from meat-and-potato type players such as Backes, Bobby Ryan and Ryan Malone, are the gravy on coach Ron Wilson’s plate because they will take the pressure off the top line of Zach Parise, Patrick Kane and Paul Stastny.
“I think when we have that secondary scoring going you’re not going to be able to shut down one line,” Backes said. “It’s going to take balance and different guys stepping up every night.”
That balance, along with the team chemistry that Wilson has been talking about since arriving in Vancouver, won’t come over night. It will continue to develop over the course of the tournament.
For now the team is working on becoming more comfortable with one another, and their coach.
“The whole game was a chance for me to get to know some of the players a little bit better,” said Wilson. "I haven’t coached these guys and found myself referring to my game card to see if I had the lines together.
“We have so many damn Ryans that it gets confusing. I would say Ryan and five guys turn around. You have to start figuring out what their nicknames are, and if you don’t know them just make one up.”
As far as the players are concerned, they really don’t care what you call them. Just as long as you call them up to the medals podium at the end of the tournament.