(HockeyStL)-- Team USA announced its 25-man Olympic roster following Wednesday’s NHL Winter Classic. On it were three Blues players, none of whom were surprise picks.
Forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie, along with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk are all headed to Sochi, Russia, with the U.S. team in February for the 2014 Olympic Games.
The 2014 Olympic Games will be Backes’ fifth time representing his country. Backes has appeared in three World Championships, the 2010 Winter Olympics and now the 2014 Winter Olympics with Team USA. He and Team USA fell just short of Gold in 2010 and were awarded the Silver Medal after falling to Team Canada in overtime of the championship game. That game was the only one that Team USA lost, and despite tying Canada’s record, they came in second in the tournament.
Oshie was nearly a part of that same 2010 experience, but before the roster was officially announced, he had received the news that he had been left off. Oshie was believed to be on the bubble again this year, despite being 10th overall in the NHL with 27 assists. Oshie’s 33 points are also second on the Blues behind only Alexander Steen. However, Oshie’s name was sported on the back of a young skater’s jersey following the Winter Classic, which confirmed his spot on the roster.
Oshie, along with Backes and Shattenkirk were all deserving of a spot on Team USA’s roster, but with limited spaces, not everyone deserving gets to represent their country at the Games.
“It’s really up to the way the guy wants to select his roster,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, who is a part of Team Canada’s coaching staff. “Sometimes they look at different positions, sometimes they look at certain players. It depends on how the guy builds his roster. When you are in the lower third, you just have to grin and bear it.”
Oshie and Backes are two of the Blues’ top three point producers. Shattenkirk is fifth on the team in points (28) and third on the team in assists (22). He leads all Blues defensemen in points, as well as being fifth among NHL defensemen in that category.
“The thing that I am proudest of on the American side is the guys that we have that are qualified have done everything they can to make this hockey club,” said Hitchcock. “They’ve all had really, really good first halves.”
Players were not told in advance this year whether or not they had made the cut, which led to an exciting day. Backes, Shattenkirk and Oshie were all at the Blues’ optional skate, but had not received word regarding the selection process. They found out around the same time everyone else did.
“It’s a nerve-racking day, but it’s fun at the same time,” said Shattenkirk.
But when the players saw their names announced, reality hit them. Backes, barring a significant injury, was a lock for the team. But for Oshie and Shattenkirk, who have never experienced the Olympics, it’s a dream come true.
“It’s something that I’ve always dreamed of,” said Shattenkirk. “It’s going to be a great experience. Anytime you can wear that USA jersey, it’s always been something special to me and this has always been my ultimate goal.”
The three players knew they were up for selection after attending Team USA’s orientation camp in late August. There were 46 players chosen to participate in the camp. Players were told that number would be narrowed down to 25 and announced around the New Year. The coaching staff used the first few months of the season as ‘tryouts’ for their team.
The camp allowed the players time to get acquainted with each other, their coaching staff and the Olympic experience. Though players did not skate with each other during the camp, they began to grasp the excitement surround the Olympic Games.
“The one thing I caught from (Backes) and from being at the camp was that they all have this bond that they get to share,” said Shattenkirk. “Going over there to Vancouver and experiencing the memories that they got to was ultimately something you don’t get a lot of kicks at the cans. They really had a pride that they got to go over there and do something and already in August they were looking forward to getting there in February.”
But there will also be some awkward occurrences in Sochi during the February break. The Blues could have as many as 11 players going to Russia, including the three that are going with the U.S. team. With those 11 spread amongst multiple teams, each battling for their respective countries, it will likely lead to some interesting exchanges on and off the ice.
“It’s really interesting. You will go a long period of time talking to them almost every day and then when you are there you won’t say one word to them,” said Hitchcock. “You’ll hang with your group. You won’t dare be caught making conversation with them. It’s the nature of the beast that you spend zero time socializing.”
“You won’t get caught eating lunch anywhere near them. You will see people move, sit at the end of the hall. It’s actually funny when you see it but we all do it.”
But Shattenkirk isn’t disappointed in the lack of communication between him and his coach over the break.
“Hey, if he doesn’t talk to me, I won’t talk to him. That’s how it goes,” he said.
But the young defenseman also admitted that it will be great to play against his Blues teammates, most of whom he has rarely seen on the opponent bench.
“It’ll be fun to play against those guys and have a whole different perspective on the game,” he said.
The remaining teams are expected to announce their rosters in the next week. Alex Pietrangelo (Canada), Jay Bouwmeester (Canada), Roman Polak (Czech Republic), Vladimir Sobotka (Czech Republic), Alexander Steen (Sweden), Patrik Berglund (Sweden), Vladimir Tarasenko (Russia) and Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia) are the other Blues players expected to be headed to Sochi in February. The Blues had just three players in the 2010 Olympic Games.