Friday, January 1, 2010

Backes, Johnson will live out Olympic dream

Both Blues players will represent USA in Vancouver; Oshie not among finalists

ST. LOUIS -- Even though the state of their current hockey team is stagnant right now, two members of the Blues have reason to smile from ear-to-ear today.

At the conclusion of the Winter Classic, which was played out in Boston's historic Fenway Park Friday, the names of the U.S. Olympic hockey team were unveiled, and three Blues hopefuls were hopeful of getting the call as part of the 23-member squad.

Forward David Backes and defenseman Erik Johnson were selected to represent the U.S. in Vancouver for the Winter Games, along with St. Louis native Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche. Stanwood, Washington native T.J. Oshie was not among the final selections.

Backes, who hails from Minneapolis, Minn. and Johnson, also hailing from the state of Minnesota in the town of Bloomington, will be making their first respective appearances with Team USA and are delighted to do so.

"It's just a big honor," said Johnson, the top overall pick of the 2006 entry draft. "Any time you can represent your country, it's something that you can obviously dream about growing up. A lot of guys in this room have had the chance to do that, a lot of veteran guys. They say it's such a great experience. It's going to be a big honor."

How ironic that two guys from Minnesota make the team on the 30th anniversary squad that shocked the world when they beat the mighty Soviet Union under the guidance of none other than Herb Brooks, a St. Paul, Minn. native.

"Growing up, especially in Minnesota, you always dream of playing in the NHL or playing on the Olympic team especially with what the 1980 team did," the 21-year-old Johnson said. "You always want to be as part of that someday. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to."

"To think that there's only 22-23 guys that could be named today, and I was one of them is obviously an honor and also humbling," said Backes, 25.

The U.S. squad will resemble the one that Brooks guided in Lake Placid, N.Y. because it's apparent a youth movement is being targeted from the group that was put together by US general manager Brian Burke, who is the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Gone are the days of Keith Tkachuk, Chris Chelios, Mike Modano, Bill Guerin and Doug Weight.
Of the 23 players selected, only three (Detroit's Bryan Rafalski, New Jersey's Jamie Langenbrunner and New York Rangers' Chris Drury) have previous Olympic experience.

"Tkachuk and those guys, they made USA Hockey ... they made a name for it," Johnson said. "So many guys that are on the team for 2010 looked up to those guys because they really branded the game."

Now, the names will consist of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Bobby Ryan and Joe Pavelski to name a few.

"They're definitely big shoes to fill," Backes said. "There is a lack of experience with this group, but we love the challenge. It's going to take guys exceeding expectations and filling their roles adequately. I think that's an advantage we have.

"No one is expecting us to do very well. Everyone is looking at the Russians, the Canadians and the Swedes. But we're going to win; that's the feeling in our room."

And that's the feeling Brooks instilled in his heavily underdog American squad. And the gold medal result was poetic, right Al Michaels?

"Do you believe in miracles ... yes!," Michaels proclaimed after the 4-3 shocking upset of the Soviets.

The 2010 team would love more of the same.

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