Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A perfect trifecta for Blues' USA Olympians

Backes, Oshie, Shattenkirk all named to represent 
the United States at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics 

ST. LOUIS -- As youth kids with United States Olympic hockey jersey's wavering through the cold and snow at the conclusion of the 2014 Bridgestone Winter Classic would turn and face a national audience watching on NBC, they would reveal the names of those that will represent USA in Sochi next month.

They were doing so in alphabetical order, and the Blues' David Backes didn't have to wait long to see his name and No. 42. Backes was a uninimous lock to represent USA, one of returning players from the team that won a silver medal in 2010 at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

But there were two other teammates Backes was anxiously awaiting word on, and when Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik came and went, there were some anxious moments for T.J. Oshie.
(St. Louis Blues/USA Hockey photo)
From left to right: the Blues' David Backes, Kevin Shattenkirk and T.J. Oshie 
will represent USA at the Sochi WinterOlympics in February. All three were 
named to the squad on Wednesday afternoon.

"I saw Orpik and I was trying to figure out the alphabet, see if 'Os' was before or after 'Or,'" Backes joked. "Then I saw the (No.) 74 coming and I almost jumped out of my chair I was so happy for Osh. 

"For me, being first in the alphabet on the team, I got to get it out of the way right away. But after I saw my jersey, I was hoping and praying." 

For the Blues, Backes' prayers came to fruition and they'll have a trifecta of players representing USA. 

Oshie was announced as a member of the team, his first as well as Shattenkirk, who came not too long after Oshie, and it became clear that the Blues will have three players among the 25 on USA.

"Shatty came along ... I heard the town that he's from and his announcement," Backes said. "For me, those two guys have had such a great start to the year and have put the work in and really deserved it and I couldn't be happier for those guys too."

The 29-year-old Backes, who has been injured for the Blues, missing four of the team's past seven games, has 16 goals and 30 points in 35 games this season and is part of the "leadership" group named by USA executives, including Nashville Predators general manager David Poile.

"... It's not getting old, I'll tell you that much," Backes said of being named. "It's something that we were hopeful for and to represent my country on an international stage at the Olympic Games was a dream come true the first time and we were one goal away from the ultimate goal that we had...and to get a second chance at it means a lot and hopefully we'll accomplish that goal now."

Oshie said there was a mix of calmness and being on pins and needles waiting for the announcement.

"I saw the little guy skating and when I heard Warroad, Minnesota, it was a big relief," Oshie said. "I didn't even realize what order they were going in. Once they started going, I was like 'Oh please, don't be one of the last ones, just please be in the lineup.' It was pretty nerve-racking when that (Winter Classic) goes into OT and a shootout too. The heart was racing for a little bit.

"I just kind of sat there and didn't really say anything. I was kind of in shock a little bit, but very happy, very proud to be named to the team. Very, very excited to get to Sochi."

Oshie, 27, was a bubble player for Vancouver four years ago and didn't make the cut, but he solidified his spot for the first time as an Olympian with 33 points (27 assists) in 39 games and is one of those players USA executives covets because of his versatility in both ends of the ice and a player that can be relied upon in all situations. 

"I've had this in my sights since the last Olympics and not making that team," Oshie said. "Especially this summer, I was really focused during workouts, remembering that this is an Olympic year, this is the year to get a really good start. Just been working hard for a long time and it's nice to have something to show for it."

The 24-year-old Shattenkirk is also a first-time Olympian and according to predictions, was a lock to make the squad, but his 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) are fifth in the NHL among defensemen.

"It's something that I've kind of always dreamed of," Shattenkirk said before the selection. "It's just going to be a great experience if I have the opportunity to get over there. I'm really looking forward to that. 

"Any time you can wear that USA jersey, it's always been something pretty special to me and this has kind of been the ultimate goal to get there."

Blues coach and Canada assistant coach Ken Hitchcock said just to be considered, let alone selected, is an honor.

"I'm proud of the guys that (were) even in the mix," Hitchcock said. "... To be considered is really a feather in the cap. You've got to be proud of the fact they're in the mix. 

"The thing I'm proudest of is on the American side, the guys that we have that are qualified have done everything they can to make this hockey club. Backes, Oshie, Shattenkirk have all had really, really good first half of the years."

The Blues could potentially have as many as 11-12 Olympians representing their respective countries when the games get going, with the three Americans, as well as Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester (Canada), Alexander Steen, Patrik Berglund and Magnus Paajarvi (Sweden), Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia), Roman Polak and Vladimir Sobotka (Czech Republic) and Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia).

If the majority, if not all make it, Hitchcock will have some 'splainin' to do if he gets caught speaking or interacting with one of his Blues players from another country.
(Getty Images photo)
This will be the second Winter Olympics for the Blues' David Backes (42).

"You'll go for a long period of time talking to them every day, and then when you're there, you won't (say) one word to them," Hitchcock said. "You'll hang with your own group, you'll acknowledge, you nod when they go there, you won't dare get caught making conversation with them, you'll avoid them at all costs. 

"It's just the nature of the beast of the Olympic Games. You spend no time talking to the opposition, somebody from another country, whatever. You spend zero time socializing. It's all within your own group."

Shattenkirk is on board.

"It'd be nice ... it'd be a nice little two-week break," Shattenkirk joked. "Poor 'Petro' and 'Bouw,' they're going to have to deal with it.

"Hey, if he doesn't talk to me, then I won't talk to him either. That's the way it goes."

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