Caps’ John Carlson gunning for spot on U.S. Olympic team

On Feb. 22, 1980, the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team beat Russia 4-3 in the semifinals at the Lake Placid Winter Games. Dubbed the “Miracle on Ice,” it is perhaps the biggest moment in U.S. hockey history.

It was also a long time ago.

David Poile, the former Capitals general manager who is the GM of the current U.S. Olympic team, noted Monday that not a single player at Kettler Iceplex this week for the team’s orientation camp was born then. Ryan Miller, the oldest at 33, was born five months later.

That doesn’t mean they don’t all know about the game, about every last detail.

“I watched a cassette from that game, before the movie even came out. It was just a tremendous thing,” said Capitals defenseman John Carlson, born almost 10 years after the game. “My dad got a copy. It was one of those things we watched on our way to hockey games.”

The United States hasn’t won a gold since. A pair of silvers are the team’s only medals since 1980, including a runner-up finish to Canada at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. There are 48 players here who would like to change that, though only 25 of that group will be chosen to go to Sochi, Russia, in February.

Carlson, 23, who scored the game-winner in the gold medal game at the 2010 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, is out like the other 47 to prove he belongs on that final list.

“Playing for your country, that changes everything,” Carlson said. “It is a totally different atmosphere as a team. It ramps everything up emotionally. It’s the most popular hockey event that they have. It would be an honor.”

Hockey is one of the sports for which the Olympics are not generally considered the biggest goal. For those in the NHL, it is winning the Stanley Cup. But the Olympics have a bigger place than one might think.

Poile, now the general manager of the Nashville Predators after his long stint in Washington, said being named general manager of the U.S. team was “the biggest honor I’ve ever had, the ultimate thing I could do in my hockey career.”

Dan Bylsma, the Pittsburgh Penguins coach who will direct this team on ice, said “for the NHL and the players, winning the Stanley Cup is something we’re all measured by, want to do. But before I wanted to win a Stanley Cup, I wanted to win a gold medal for my country. I watched the Olympics when I was 5 and 9 and have memories of wanting to represent your country and play in the ultimate sporting event.

“It’s the culmination of a lifetime of work and achievement [to] compete in the Olympic Games. That’s bigger than the Stanley Cup and it’s bigger for us at a younger age. Representing your country and the opportunity to win a gold medal is, I think, unparalleled.”

Players aren’t scheduled to skate together during their two full days in town. There are meetings and more meetings, sessions with the media, a visit to Tuesday’s Nationals-Marlins game and more meetings on the agenda.

The next time they’ll gather is Feb. 12, in Sochi.

At least, the 25 chosen will gather. Poile and Bylsma and their respective staffs will talk regularly until then and, yes, what some players do in the early months of the NHL season will be a factor. The final roster will be announced around Jan. 1.

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