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Rangers McDonagh realizes dream on U.S. Olympic team

01/13/2014, 2:15pm MST
By Dan Scifo - Special to

Ryan McDonagh can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

McDonagh, the standout defenseman for the New York Rangers, will represent the United States for the first time in his career during the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

“It’s a huge honor,” the 24-year-old McDonagh said. “I could say that watching [the Olympics] in 2010, I started dreaming about it and thinking about what it would be like to have the opportunity to wear that jersey and play in the tournament on the biggest stage.

“Now I have that, and I really want to try to make the best of it.”

Long considered a lock to make the team, McDonagh still tried his hardest not to let talk of Olympic consideration distract him prior to the squad’s Jan. 1 announcement at the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, but the suspense always lingered.

“I think I did a pretty good job of not thinking about it too much,” McDonagh said. “A couple times we played in Nashville, and obviously the GM [David Poile, who serves the same with Team USA and the Predators] is there, so there’s a lot of talk then.

“You truly never know. You hear things, and things are said throughout the season, but to find out for certain … it’s something I’m pretty proud of and honored to be part of the team.”

McDonagh figures to be a key part of the U.S. team, too. The Saint Paul, Minn. native is the Rangers’ top defenseman, a unique blend of size and skill, who is charged with shutting down the opposition’s top line on a nightly basis.

He could provide a similar role in Sochi on a defensive corps that includes veterans Ryan Suter, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, in addition to fellow first-time Olympians Kevin Shattenkirk, Cam Fowler, John Carlson, and Justin Faulk.

“We really think that this group of players and this team could be great defensively,” said Dan Bylsma, coach of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team.

“We have some experienced guys that have been there before, but we also added some younger players. We think we’re going to be real sound and real good with the guys we have.”

The first thing that jumps out to McDonagh is the experience returning to the 2014 U.S. team, a squad that features 13 Americans who were part of the 2010 silver-medal-winning effort in Vancouver.

“I think it’s perfect. They had a good run with a similar group, so hopefully we can take the next step and accomplish the ultimate goal,” McDonagh said. “Myself, being my first Olympics, I’ll lean on them and try to pick their brains about what to expect, and hopefully we can succeed as a group.”

McDonagh will also have another opportunity to play alongside a close childhood friend on the biggest international stage. New York Rangers’ teammate Derek Stepan was considered to be on the cusp of making the Olympic team, but his worries were put to rest when the team was announced following the Winter Classic.

“I said before, when we were going through the process, it’s hard not to think about it, but at the same time you try your best to focus on what you have in front of you that night … to try and play those games, because that’s going to help you take steps towards the Olympic stage,” Stepan said.

“It’s a great honor. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be there or not, and it’s something that I’m very grateful for.”

McDonagh and Stepan were college teammates at the University of Wisconsin and played on the U.S. team at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in 2011. They also played against each other in high school, McDonagh starring at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul while Stepan played for two years at Hastings High School before moving to the prestigious Shattuck-Saint Mary’s prep school team.

“We’ve come a long way together, starting out playing against each other in high school in Minnesota and on the way to college,” McDonagh said. “Now, we’ll get to wear the USA jersey together. That’s a big stage and that will be real special for us.”

It also means a lot to McDonagh that he will get to share this experience with his teammate and longtime close friend.

“I think we were both pushing for each other, and I’m really happy that we’re both going to get this opportunity,” McDonagh said. “We were able to play at World Championships together, and now we’ll take it to the biggest stage, the Olympic stage, and hopefully come up with something special.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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According to NHL metrics, the average hockey shift lasts somewhere between 45 and 55 seconds. There’s inherent beauty and fluidity to line changes, as skaters come on and off the ice, looking to recharge after going full throttle for their teams.

Meanwhile, your NHL officiating peers are giving their all, too – regularly logging 4-5 miles a game. Those totals are even greater at your level, where you and your colleagues officiate multiple games a day, several times per week, on a seemingly never-ending calendar.

And, although we want to perform our best every game, everyone has both good days and bad – players and officials alike. To learn more about keeping burnout at bay, we went to the experts: longtime amateur hockey scheduler Larry Carrington and former NHL official Mark Faucette.

“There is so much more to officiating than meets the eye,” said Faucette, a 17-year NHL veteran. “It may look easy from the stands, but to maintain total control of a game along with the stress, slumps, supervisors, travel, and fitness regimen takes a very special kind of person.”

Get in shape (and stay there)
We all think we’re in “pretty good” shape, but the reality is, officials must be top athletes and in great condition – even at the youngest levels.

“Conditioning is very important—the deeper into the season, the more important it is,” Carrington said. “Burnout happens physically, mentally, and emotionally. An official who is in good condition will experience less physical burnout, and that will in turn help with the emotional and mental burnout.”

Faucette stresses following a workout routine that maxes yourself at least every other day. Neither player or official should plan to use games as a vehicle toward better physical fitness.

“Where we used to go to camp to get into shape, officials today are on summer conditioning regimens and are tested as soon as they come to camp,” he said. “Taking care of your body is a total focus for the good official.

“The players are so much stronger and faster now, so it’s imperative the officials keep the same pace.”

Find balance
No, not balance on your skates (that’s a given). Rather, make sure to keep the big picture in mind, to work a manageable schedule that includes everything that’s important to you – family, friends, and time away from the rink.

Although it makes Carrington’s job as an assignor more difficult, he said it pays off in the long run.

“I encourage officials to take at least one weekend off to get away from hockey,” he said. “I certainly don't want to lose their services for a week, but the invigoration that it usually provides makes them a much more valuable asset over the course of the season.”

That’s huge in an industry where both mental and physical fatigue are commonplace.

“Every official runs into slumps, just as players do,” Faucette said. “You spend numerous hours alone as an official, and when things are not going good, where everything is negative, it can cause you duress.

“Positive thoughts and self-evaluations speed up recovery,” he continued. “So, instead of telling yourself, ‘I wonder what bad thing will happen tonight?’ say ‘I’m ready for anything – bring it on!’”

Have fun
It’s No. 3 here, but should be No. 1 on your to-do list.

“I realize the officials are all trying hard, and mistakes are part of any sport by any participant,” said Faucette, who currently serves as supervisor of officials for USA Hockey, the NAHL director of player safety and the SPHL director of officiating. “That being said, the joy I get out of seeing a young official start out at ground level and making the big time one day is immeasurable.”

For most of you reading this, the “big time” might not be the end goal (and that’s OK). But wherever you are, there’s experience you’ve gained, as well as that to come – which both point back to why you first got involved in this great sport.

As an assignor, Carrington tries to get out of the office as much as he can and intentionally varies the schedules of his officials to help keep things fresh. He also encourages his more senior officials to lend a hand to those who aren’t as long in the tooth.

“Going to the rink and helping officials help themselves get better can be very invigorating,” he said. “Even a very good, very experienced official will often find it fun and relaxing to mentor some new official at a lower-level game where the stress levels aren’t nearly as high.”

But no matter where you officiate, Carrington emphasizes keeping one thing in mind: the love of the sport and those playing it today.

“If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be out there.”

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