By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- In a recent trip into St. Louis, Nashville Predators and United States general manager David Poile answered questions about the three Blues players representing Team USA in David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk, who will drop the puck Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m. (St. Louis time) to open the 2014 Sochi Olympics against Slovakia:
On David Backes?
-- I got to know him real well in 2010 at the Olympics. What was there not to like? His play and his personality ... as you know, we made him a part of the leadership group in July. Brian Burke, Ray Shero and I knew him real well. I have the fortune -- good or bad, however you want to look at it -- playing the Blues all the time for a couple years so I've certainly seen how his career has established itself and what he's meant to the Blues and the affect that he has in every game that we play. He's going to be a real important player for us in this tournament and we're certainly looking for him both on the ice and off the ice as part of our leadership group.
Does Backes embody as close to a perfect Olympian as anyone can?
-- If you're asking would I like to have him on my team (Poile laughs)? Absolutely. We are talking about the best players in the game. ... The day before we picked a captain, any of the five guys (Backes, Zach Parise, Ryan Callahan, Ryan Suter and Dustin Brown) could have been the captain and it was just the choice of how we came about doing it. That doesn't diminish what David's role or any of these other guys' roles. We certainly expect that they're going to be participating in both on-ice contributions and off-ice contributions.
What makes you fear David Backes?
-- It's not a day in the park when you're playing against David Backes. ... That's nothing new to me. In an NHL game, you might be talking about the matchups on one or two lines that might be important. In the Olympics, it's lines one through four, so pick your poison. You need guys in every line that can match up against No. 1 lines in the National Hockey League.
-- Same thing, I've got to watch him a ton being in the Central Division and watching him grow. He got some strong consideration in 2010 ... I think that's taken him to that level that everybody, including the coaches, see a fit. We're big on chemistry things; you have Backes and Oshie on the same line. Not that's what's going to happen, but you have power play, penalty killing, those type of things ... shootouts. He's played himself on the team, no question about that.
-- That's probably the biggest change on the team. We're coming back with nine forwards out of 14 that played in 2010, and we're only coming back with two defensemen in Suter and (Brooks) Orpik. Paul Martin got hurt before the Olympics in 2010, but there's five or six new guys and in this case, that's five younger players. In 2010, we talked about the North American game, the physicality of the North American game and we chose a certain type of defense which I think was right at the time. In Europe, we're looking for that high hockey IQ, a skating ability for the defenseman to take the puck from defense to offense as quickly as possible. This is where Shattenkirk got in the picture, just like (Cam) Fowler and (Justin) Faulk and these younger guys. I'm not trying to say they're exactly the same, but they have that high hockey IQ and they have that ability to make that first pass to get us out of playing defense and get us transitioning to playing offense as quickly as possible. I've had the benefit and fortunate to watch Shattenkirk, and his game's developed in the last three or four years, too. He's really taken it up a lot.
Trust in younger 'D' like Shattenkirk, taking him over someone like Keith Yandle, etc?
-- We've made the decision so we are where we are. You know how that goes. If you win, you're brilliant. If you lose, you should have taken this guy or that guy. The good news is and I'm trying to say this the right way: it's the first time in my recollection that there was any substantial criticism of the selection process, which I'm saying is a good thing because the quality of players that are available in the United States. Every chance I get, I try to say the same thing. Here in the National Hockey League, I'm the benefactor as a general manager. But the people at the grass roots level, these people that have put in all the time of USA hockey and the developmental program, everybody's doing a fantastic job and we're getting players from everywhere. From St. Louis, from Nashville, California, from Texas. It's fantastic right now.