Among the team-issued gear passed out to players attending this week’s U.S. Men’s National Team Camp, the one thing not needed were nametags.
That’s because most of the 48 players who came to the Kettler Capitals Ice Plex in Arlington, Va., have played together on various U.S. Select and National Teams over the course of their careers, making this camp more of a reunion than an introduction.
“It’s always fun to see the faces that you compete against day in and day out in the NHL, and this is a unique opportunity with the Olympic Camp,” said Dustin Brown, who at the ripe age of 28 is one of the veterans of this young group with an average age of 24.6.
“There are a lot of players who have played together in various tournaments so it’s kind of like a reunion getting back together with some of these players, some of who I played with 15 years ago when I was 14 or 15 years old.”
Brown is one of 16 players invited to the camp who have previous Olympic experience, along with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who served as alternate captains on the silver-medal winning 2010 Olympic Team.
“It makes me feel real old,” said the 29-year-old Parise, who along with Brown and Suter are attending their third camp. “There are a lot of young players here, which is great. I remember when I was in their shoes before the Italy Olympics so I know what they’re feeling.”
In addition, nine players recently played for the bronze-medal winning U.S. Men's National Team at the 2013 IIHF World Championship in Stockholm, Sweden, and Helsinki, Finland, including goaltender 20-year-old John Gibson, Alex Galchenyuk and Jacob Trouba, who also led the U.S. to a gold medal at the most recent World Junior Championship. Galchenyuk and Trouba are the youngest players invited to the camp at 19, while 2010 Olympic hero Ryan Miller is the oldest at 33.
“USA Hockey has done a really good job of developing the player pool and the coaching pool,” said Brian Burke, who will serve as director of player personnel for the 2014 Olympic Team.
“That’s a blessing for us with the players we selected, and a curse because some pretty good players aren’t here, and some pretty good coaches aren’t here. Everyone is doing their jobs, and the pool is getting deeper. Decisions get harder but that’s a nice problem to have.”
NHL players, participants find a real benefit in getting together prior to the start of NHL training camps, despite the fact that they won’t touch the ice as they’ve done at previous Olympic Orientation Camps in 2001, 2005 and 2009.
The price tag to insure players against injury is way too high for USA Hockey, as it is for other countries who have also opted away from taking to the ice.
“I don’t think that anything we’re going to do on the ice in August is going to have an impact in February,” said Brown, who is attending his third camp. “With all the video work you do you can probably learn more off the ice than on the ice from a structure standpoint, how we want to play and I’m sure we’ll have some fun this week.”
For the U.S. leadership, the week has plenty of benefits, from bonding opportunities, which include a team outing to a Washington Nationals baseball game on Tuesday night, to opportunities for the coaches to get to know the players on a personal basis. Players will also hear from several highly decorated military veterans during a private team-only dinner on Monday night.
“There are a whole bunch of reasons to do this and it’s exciting,” Burke said. “It’s great to be here.”