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Olympic hockey: Gold is the goal for U.S. men and women

September 10, 2009 | 10:33 am

Brown The slogan for Canada's aspiring Olympians at the Vancouver Winter Games is "Own the podium."

Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said Thursday that his organization is using that as a jumping-off point for its own athletes, but with a twist. "They want to own the podium. We intend to lease the top step," he said.

The U.S. women's team, which has undergone extensive changes since its bronze-medal finish at Turin, Italy, in 2006, will go into these Games as the defending world champions and winners of the recent Hockey Canada Cup, an Olympic test event conducted last week in Vancouver. The men's team, which has also undergone a lot of changes and become much younger, won't be the favorites in hockey-crazed Canada. That's fine with Brian Burke, the former Ducks general manager and current Toronto GM who will serve a similar role with Team USA.

"There won't be a penny bet on our hockey team in Vancouver. That's fine with us," Burke told an audience at the U.S. Olympic Committee's pre-Games media summit. "We feel we have the deepest pool we've ever had before, thanks to USA Hockey."

Burke, passionate and bombastic as always, got off some of the best lines at the news conference for the men's team, which featured Kings forward Dustin Brown, Chicago's Patrick Kane, Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, New Jersey's Zach Parise and Nashville's Ryan Suter sitting on stage and modeling the Olympic jerseys 

Asked whether players might let up at the Games against opposing teams that will include their NHL teammates, Burke gave a baleful glare. "You've got a better chance of seeing God than seeing that," he said.

And in discussing player evaluation, Burke said he wants not just the most skillful players but checkers and "character" players.

"I tell my team, you go to the symphony orchestra, there's a first violin and she's elegant and she's seated last," he said. "But there's also a guy built like me in the back row, playing the tuba," and the orchestra needs him just as much.

"We need people to do specific jobs well," he added.

The U.S. women's team was represented by two women who are vying to become four-time Olympians: Simi Valley native Angela Ruggiero and Jenny Potter. Also onstage were Coach Mark Johnson -- who next year will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of his gold-medal triumph with the U.S. men's team at Lake Placid -- Julie Chu, Natalie Darwitz, San Francisco native Hilary Knight and goaltender Jessie Vetter.

Potter struck a nice note by paying tribute to Cammi Granato, a pioneer of women's hockey who played on the 1998 and 2002 U.S. teams but was unceremoniously dumped from the team before the Turin Games. Potter (known as Jenny Schmidgall in 1998 before her marriage), said she was positively influenced by Granato and intends to keep Granato's spirit alive.

"I was fortunate to be part of the '98 team and play with a great leader like Cammi Granato," she said, "and I want to pass that tradition along."

The women's team will begin a residency/training program in Blaine, Minn., next week before beginning a pre-Olympic tour. The men, however, are headed for their various NHL training camps and won't reunite until a day before the Games. "It's going to be a monumental task," said Ron Wilson, the former Ducks coach whose first Olympic experience -- at Nagano in 1998 -- didn't go so well and is best remembered for non-medal-winning U.S. athletes trashing two dorm rooms.

"But we're going with only one goal in mind," he said, "and that's winning a gold medal."

The last U.S. men's team to win gold was Herb Brooks' 1980 squad. To get a sense of how long ago that was -- and how much turnover there has been in the pool for the U.S. men's team -- only seven of the players being considered for the Vancouver team were even alive when the Miracle on Ice occurred.

Suter is the son of 1980 Olympian Bob Suter but said his father didn't talk much about that remarkable achievement. "When I was younger, my teacher used to make me bring his medal to school for show and tell," Suter said. "I brought it and forgot it. I left it in my locker. I didn't have a clue what it meant. My dad didn't get upset.

"We haven't really talked much about it now, but as time goes on I'm sure we will."

And, yes, he recovered the medal, which he said his father keeps "somewhere" in their Wisconsin home.

Both the men's and women's teams will name their final rosters in December. By the way, the Olympic tournament will be played on NHL-sized ice instead of the wider international dimensions.

More later from the Olympic summit.

-- Helene Elliott in Chicago

Photo: Kings captain Dustin Brown poses for a portrait during the U.S. Olympic team media summit in Chicago. Credit: Jamie Squire / Getty Images.