Let’s Roll

U.S. Teams Take Aim At Golden Hat Trick In Beijing

The walls of Team USA's locker rooms are typically covered with inspirational slogans that speak of "Unity," "Pride" and "Teamwork." 

They represent a feeling that is instilled in all those who have had the honor of wearing the red, white and blue and serve as a daily reminder that each player, coach and staff member is representing something bigger than themselves. 

One catchphrase stands out above the rest. That word is "Sacrifice" and it symbolizes the hard work each member of a U.S. team has put into getting to this point, while also serving as a reminder of the sacrifices made by so many far from the field of play.

One of those who made the ultimate sacrifice is Todd Beamer, a father and husband, former collegiate athlete and true patriot, who along with several other brave souls stepped up in a time of crisis and helped avert an even greater tragedy from taking place during the attacks of 9-11.

Beamer's immortal words, "Let's Roll," were more than just a rallying cry for passengers of Flight 93 who overpowered hijackers determined to fly that plane into the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and forced a crash landing in an empty field in Shanksville, Pa.

As the nation recently reflected on the 20th anniversary of one of the darkest days in its history and honored all of those lost in the tragic events of 9-11, John Vanbiesbrouck first thought of how Beamer's words were the perfect rallying cry for U.S. hockey teams who will take on the world in Beijing during the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

"I just thought that his act and inspiration on the 20th anniversary of 9-11 and the words 'let's roll' were something that in an Olympic year are really important," said Vanbiesbrouck, a member of the 1998 U.S. Olympic Team and is now the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey.

"With all the challenges and adversity out there, sometimes you just gotta say, 'let's roll' and put it all aside and go out and do something great."

 

Worn With Pride
Every player who has had the privilege of representing their country in international competition is happy to share the personal pride they have every time they slip on the jersey adorned with the USA crest. 

"Even putting on the practice jersey brings out the same feeling," said 19-year-old defenseman Caroline Harvey, who will make her Olympic debut with the U.S. Women's Team. 

"Every time I wear it for a game, scrimmage or even a practice, I'm just so grateful seeing the logo. It's just so exciting. I don't know how to explain it."

And that thrill never gets old. Just ask 34-year-old T.J. Oshie, the star of the 2014 Sochi Games, the last time NHL players laced up the skates on Olympic ice, who was hoping to get another kick at the can in Beijing.

"I'll speak for all the players, it really means a lot to be able to represent your country. It's one of the highest honors that you can have as an athlete," the Mount Vernon, Wash., native said.

 

A Band Of Brothers
With six wounded warriors on its current roster, perhaps no U.S. team embodies the spirit of "sacrifice" more than the three-time Paralympic gold medal-winning U.S. Sled Team.

Just like a military unit, every member of this Paralympic powerhouse, military and civilian, has embraced his role as in achieving a common goal. It may not be a life or death situation like combat, but each of these 17 players knows that when things are at their worst, such as being down a goal late in the 2018 Paralympic gold-medal game, they can rely on their teammates to come through.

"It's very different to being in the military. This is a game and at the end of the day we get to go home," said Army veteran Rico Roman, who will skate in his third Paralympics. "But we are still representing our country on and off the ice. It's just another way to do it."

 

Deep End Of The Talent Pool
Four years ago NHL players did not have the opportunity to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea. In their place were college players and career minor leaguers, who lived out a dream most thought was long extinguished. The U.S. squad more than lived up to the honor, coming within a shootout goal of competing for a medal.

But this time around Vanbiesbrouck was hoping to dip into the deepest talent pool the U.S. has ever assembled. With NHL stars like Patrick Kane, Seth Jones and Auston Matthews to build an Olympic team around-many hockey pundits were predicting this year's squad could be the most talented in USA Hockey Olympic history.

"When you look at the player pool that we have in the United States today, it's as deep as it's ever been," said Mike Sullivan, who was originally slated to serve as head coach.

"That's a bold statement when you consider some of the great American-born players that built such a strong legacy, players like Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Keith Tkachuk, Billy Guerin, Tony Amonte and Jeremy Roenick. 

"Those players built such a legacy and I think this new wave of young American-born players are every bit as talented. So the expectation is to win gold. I believe we have talented enough players to do so."

 

Changing On The Fly
A (not-so) funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. The NHL was hit hard by an outbreak of Covid-19, which forced the cancellation of more than 50 games prior to the Christmas holidays. With no choice but to keep its players home in hopes of making up the lost time, the NHL announced on Dec. 22 that players would not compete in Beijing.

The one thing that had kept Vanbiesbrouck up at night quickly became a daytime nightmare. It was time to dive even deeper into that talent pool and find the next group of American players to wear the colors on the international stage. 

And that started with a new coaching staff, including former N.Y. Rangers head coach David Quinn, who was originally slated to serve as an assistant on Sullivan's staff. He'll be joined by long-time college hockey head coach Mike Hastings, three-time Olympian and assistant coach in 2018 Scott Young and goalie guru David Lassonde. They are looking to add one more member to the coaching staff in the coming days.

Helping Vanbiesbrouck and Quinn in the talent search will be USA Hockey's Marc Boxer, who has a long history of identifying talent for U.S. teams competing at international tournaments.

"We really feel confident in our depth of the American players, whether it be at the NHL level, the collegiate level, or the Americans playing in Europe," Quinn said. "There are good American players all over the world and we're gonna find them."

 

Adapt And Adjust
While Vanbiesbrouck and crew are working hard to identify players for the men's team, the U.S. Women's Team is hitting its stride just in time to defend its Olympic gold medal.

Fresh off a two-month residency program in Blaine, Minn., and an ambitious pre-Olympic tour against their archrivals from Canada, the U.S. women are ready to jump on a plane and head to Beijing.

While they may have their concerns about what life inside Beijing's "closed loop system" may have in store for them, the players are ready for whatever challenges come their way. 

"If there was one thing that this team is really good at, it's adjusting and adapting to the circumstances that we were dealing with," said team captain Kendall Coyne Schofield.

The defending Olympic gold medalists have proven that time and again, whether it was finding a way to train during the height of the pandemic or seeing their World Championships scrapped in 2020 and pushed back several months in 2021. This is a resilient group that has proven they can overcome whatever the hockey gods throw their way.

"It's something we haven't really thought about too much. I think maybe a luxury we have within the Team USA umbrella is just trusting that they are going to take care of us so we can just focus on playing," said U.S. goaltender Nicole Hensley. 

"We'll just kind of take it as it comes, put one foot in front of the other and deal with those things, if and when they happen. Just worry about today, and tomorrow will take care of itself." 

 

Issue: 
2022-01

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