New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan was a key component of the 2010 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team that captured a silver medal in Vancouver.
The most important take from the 2010 Games that sticks with Callahan, who will represent the United States for the second time in his career during the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, wasn’t the heartbreaking overtime defeat against Canada in the gold-medal game, but merely the opportunity to participate in the Olympic experience.
“I think the biggest thing I took out of Vancouver is how fun it was and how much of an honor it was, and how proud I was to represent the USA and our country,” Callahan said. “You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get, so going into Russia I’m just going to enjoy the overall experience again. I’m thankful I get another shot.”
While Callahan is excited to play for his country again, there’s no doubt the Rochester, N.Y. native wants to finish the job this time around.
“We’re going over there to represent the USA, and we’re going over there to try and win a gold medal,” Callahan said. “That’s our main concern.”
The 28-year-old Callahan, no stranger to the leadership role, will be charged with guiding Team USA to its first gold medal since the legendary 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team. He is part of a five-player leadership group, joining Minnesota Wild teammates Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, in addition to Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown and St. Louis Blues forward David Backes.
“I think it’s an experienced group,” Callahan said. “I think it’s our role to set the tone of the team and try to create an identity as fast as you can in such a short amount of time.
“I think that was big to our success in 2010, our team changing pretty quickly and establishing the way we wanted to play. That year, our leadership group did that, and now it’s passed on to us and we have to do the same in Russia.”
Dan Bylsma, coach of the U.S. Olympic team, believes this year’s leadership group is special.
“I think you look up and down our roster at a group of guys that are either captains on their teams or captain material in the past for their teams,” Bylsma said. “You’re looking at well-respected, gritty, captain players for their teams, and how they play, and how they battle, and it’s a great strength for our team.
“We’re talking about real leaders and real captains for their teams.”
A frustrating, injury-riddled year is starting to turn around at just the right time for Callahan. He missed the season opener after offseason shoulder surgery and sat out seven more games with a broken thumb suffered while blocking a shot Oct. 16 at Washington. Callahan later suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee Dec. 10 against Nashville and missed three weeks, returning Jan. 3 at Pittsburgh.
“It’s hard to sit out and watch your team,” Callahan said. “It’s been a tough year, no question, with injuries. This happens sometimes, so you have to stay positive and keep working.”
Joining Callahan on the U.S. Olympic Team are fellow New York Rangers Ryan McDonagh a standout defenseman, and forward Derek Stepan. Both McDonagh and Stepan will be first-time Olympians.
“You’re going over there and you have one practice and you’re playing in a game,” Callahan said. “[Having experience with teammates] can definitely help and make you feel more comfortable. That’s a positive, and I think it’s something they definitely concentrated on.”
Now, the focus for the U.S. Olympic squad is a gold medal, and a fully healthy Callahan is ready to flourish in Sochi.
“It’s going to be a good team,” Callahan said. “You go right through the lineup, there’s a lot of skilled players, a lot of fast players, and I think that will be good on the big ice.
“With that many talented players on the team, I think we’re going to have a good shot.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
There’s a scene in the movie “Miracle” where the U.S. players leave their locker room and walk down a corridor where hundreds if not thousands of telegrams and letters are tacked on the walls from average Americans wishing them well against the Russians.
Fast forward 30 years to the eve of Sunday's gold-medal game between the United States and Canada. Those telegrams and letters have been replaced by text messages, e-mails and Internet postings from people around the United States, from average Americans and the most rabid hockey fans to players who have worn the Team USA jersey in other events.
“It’s the curse of the Blackberry. I’m getting e-mails from people that I’ve never met who are wishing me well,” said U.S. General Manager Brian Burke.
“It truly has captured a lot of attention on both sides of the border, not just in Canada.”
The gold-medal run of the underdog U.S. Team has taken both countries by storm, and will reach its apex when the puck drops Sunday at 12:15 p.m., local time at the Canada Hockey Place.
The Canadians are a formidable opponent and have an entire country behind them, and of more immediate importance, 18,000 screaming fans on their side when the puck drops.
“It means a lot to Canada but it means a lot to the U.S., too. There are a lot of people in the U.S. who love hockey, especially around Olympic time,” said Phil Kessel.
“They’re all behind us and hopefully we can make them proud.”
For U.S. players, the support of a special group of Americans gives them extra incentive to leave it all on the ice. They know that in today’s culture, words like “hero,” “field of battle” and “war” are often synonymous with sporting events.
Each member of the U.S. team carries something with them into Sunday’s game from real American heroes, who have fought in war and lost friends and a part of themselves on the field of battle.
Dating back to the Olympic orientation camp in August, players have formed lasting friendships with members of the Wounded Warriors program. They have shared their stories about their life experiences and talked about what it means to represent their country in very different forums.
“These are special people to us,” said Burke. “We’re not just playing for our dressing room, we’re playing for our wounded warriors and we’re playing from the American people, and we’ve heard from lots of them.”
Among those who have cheered on the U.S. Men’s Team on their road to the gold medal game has been their sisters-at-arms, the U.S. Women’s Team. And the men have returned the favor.
Prior to the women’s gold-medal game on Thursday, the U.S. men lined both sides of the tunnel where the women entered the ice and wished them well. And just like the Canadian men, whose faces were plastered on the Jumbotron and on national television, the U.S. men were among the largest crowd to ever watch a women’s hockey game.
“A lot of us went to the game when they beat Canada and they were at our gold-medal game,” said four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero. “It goes back and forth. We’ve been cheering us on, we’ve been cheering them on.”
Thousands of miles away, another group of special American hockey players were glued to their television sets on both teams from afar, waiting for their turn to invade Canadian ice in hopes of winning a gold medal.
Taylor Lipsett and his wife Kathleen have been glued to their television set watching the Olympic hockey tournaments at their home in Rockwall, Texas. They plan on watching Sunday’s game at home, but Lipsett will also be texting back and forth with his teammates on the U.S. Sled Hockey Team.
For Lipsett, watching the Olympic hockey has led to a number of sleepless night, caused not by anxiety over the U.S. men’s or women’s team, but because of the anticipation of wearing the same USA jersey when he competes in the Paralympic sledge hockey tournament.
Lipsett has played in Canada before and has come back across the border victorious. Now he has a chance to clear customs with a Paralympic gold medal to go along with the bronze he won in Torino in 2006.
“The neat thing about our team is that no one puts on the jersey until we all put on the jersey together,” Lipsett said.
“Every time I put on the USA jersey, I know that I’m not only representing myself, I’m representing my family, my hometown, my country and those who have worn the jersey in other tournaments.”
That’s the pride that comes with wearing the USA jersey, and it’s what creates a special fraternity that transcends age, gender and physical ability. When one wins a gold medal, they all win a gold medal.
When the U.S. National Junior Team won gold at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship, members of the current U.S. Men's Olympic Team sent words of encouragement and congratulations. The junior team players are returning the favor on the eve of the gold medal game. Jerry D'Amigo, Jordan Schroeder, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan as well as coaches Tom Ward and Mark Osiecki have sent notes to the Olympic team.
And every one of them is hoping that Sunday is another golden day.
There’s no more golden feeling than that.