- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2013

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.

The team will keep seven or eight defensemen and it is hard to get a good read on Carlson’s chances. Four of the seven from the 2010 team are here among the 18 defensemen on the current roster.

“Obviously, my goal is to make the team. Just to be invited and be recognized is great,” Carlson said. “I just have to do my best to settle in and play my game and help the Caps win and, at the end of the day, hope that’s enough.

“It’s just a matter of not worrying about it too much. It’s always in the back of everyone’s mind, everyone is going to be thinking about it. You have one goal every night, to go out there and win the game for your team. That will calms you down a little bit and lets you play your own game and not worry about the Olympics. I just have to stick to what I do, it’s gotten me to where I am today.”

Bylsma is aware of Carlson’s ability, having coached against him numerous times. Bylsma and Caps coach Adam Oates are former teammates, and Oates has been in touch to tout his player. At 6-3, 220 pounds, Carlson is blessed with good size. He has two-way ability, as his 23 career NHL goals (and five more in the playoffs) attest.

But he’s also competing against a who’s who of American hockey.

“You talk to his coaches, they think really highly of him as a player, what he can do penalty-kill-wise, power-play-wise, with his shot,” Bylsma said. “He’s a younger guy, but he’s not too far off in the NHL, his coach believes, of being a Norris Trophy type of player and that’s saying a lot from Adam Oates. He’s a younger player, but he’s a guy who is certainly in consideration to be a big part of this defense.”