Playing in the Western Conference, David Backes has had more than his fill of Dustin Brown. The gritty Los Angeles Kings forward is normally among the league leaders in hits, and getting under opposing players’ skin.
So for Backes, who plays for the St. Louis Blues, it was good to finally meet Brown somewhere other than in the corners.
“You’d love to drive some of those guys through the boards,” said Backes, who faces Brown several times a season.
“We’re not going to like each other when we’re wearing opposing jerseys, but if it happens that we’re all wearing red, white and blue in February then it’s going to be an all all-for-one type of mentality. We’re going to go into Vancouver with one goal and that’s to win the gold medal.”
As the Olympic orientation camp came to a close Wednesday night with one last team dinner in downtown Chicago, the brain trust of the U.S. Olympic was happy with how the week went. Systems were discussed, paperwork was filed and nobody got hurt. But most important, friendships were made and players that are enemies during the 82-game season became friends.
“It’s been an awesome couple of days,” said Mike Komisarek, who will play for Wilson in Toronto after six years with the Montreal Canadiens.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of guys from across the U.S. and across the league. We worked hard when we were on the ice but also had some fun off it. All in all it’s been an awesome experience.”
As was stressed over and over again throughout the week, this was not a tryout camp. Players were selected based on a number of factors, including how well they played last season. The U.S. leadership, headed by NHL general managers Brian Burke and David Poile, watched American players last season and filed extensive reports there were then compiled and used to select the players for the Chicago camp.
Burke was quick to point out that just because a player was not invited to the camp he still has a strong chance to make the U.S. Team if he has a strong start to the 2009-10 season.
“The selection process is far from over,” said Burke. “We expect to name the team around Dec. 30, so a player who comes out of the gate and has a great start is still very much alive. This is not necessarily the group that will represent us in Vancouver but if we’ve done our job we should be pretty close, the team that will come out of this group for the most part.”
Now that the camp is over, the real tryout will begin once the puck is dropped on the NHL season. Burke and crew will fan out over the league to watch as many American-born players as they can to see who’s playing well enough for one of the coveted 23 roster spots.
“I’m traditionally a slow starter,” said Backes, who scored a career-high 31 goals last year for the Blues. “It’s one of those things that I’ve been trying to work on my whole career but there’s a little more emphasis this year. If you’re great after the Olympics there’s no turning back the clock and get a spot on the roster.”
As both players and coaches tend to the matters at hand, head coach Ron Wilson hopes some of what was discussed in Chicago will take hold somewhere in the back of the brain. To reinforce things, he plans to wait until after the team is named to send out a DVD with various systems and concepts of how he wants the team to play once they hit the ice in Vancouver.
“We want to be an aggressive forechecking team that’s on the attack all the time. We don’t want to give up possession of the puck and when we have it we want to get it back as quickly as possible,” said Wilson.
“That’s generally what we’ve been talking about for three or four days here. We won’t know until February if we set their minds straight. But I think we feel pretty good about ourselves right now.”