David Poile said it over and over again about the U.S. hockey team: the opportunities are there for young players to make an impact, possibly make the U.S. squad for the 2014 Winter Olympics. And a few Blackhawks have as good an opportunity as any to grab that chance.
Patrick Kane, Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad were invited to the U.S. Men’s National Team orientation camp, which is slated for Aug. 26-27 in Arlington, Va. It’s the first invites for Leddy and Saad, who had tremendous seasons for the Blackhawks en route to the team’s second Stanley Cup in the past four seasons.
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The orientation is basically just that: a getting-to-know-you gathering for potential players and the coaches and staff, which was finalized Tuesday. High insurance costs will keep players off the ice. The true tryouts will be from October through December, when players are suiting up for their respective NHL squads and the roster will be finalized in either late December or early January.
The orientation total alone shows how much U.S. hockey has grown: 48 players heading to an orientation camp this August, up from the 34 brought in for the 2010 squad. An orientation invite doesn’t guarantee a roster spot, not are non-invitees out of the mix. The choices will be tough. But Poile, general manager of the U.S. team, said that’s not a bad problem to have.
“We have our work cut out for us,” Poile said via conference call. “We’re looking at the future proponent we didn’t have in 2010 and we’re pleased at the depth and quality that we have. For sure, our eye is on 2014. But we also have an eye on the future with some of these younger players.”
There’s no doubt Kane will be a part of this team. His resume speaks for itself, from two Stanley Cups to the Conn Smythe he won this past postseason to the silver medal won with Team USA in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Poile said if the U.S. team is going to be successful in Sochi, guys like Kane and Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise “will have to lead.”
As for Saad and Leddy, this is a big opportunity. Both have played for Team USA on other levels. Saad won gold with the U.S. team at the IIHF World U18 Championships in 2010 and Leddy was on the U17 and U18 squads for the Five Nations tournaments in the Czech Republic.
“(Saad’s) been on our radar for a while and this was certainly more of a breakout season or him playing high in the lineup for Chicago,” Poile said. “In some ways, because of (the Blackhawks’) success and his role, he could be ahead of some of the younger guys.”
In talking about defensemen, Poile mentioned Leddy as one who could challenge.
“There are a lot of good, young, up-and-coming defensemen in the NHL who have the qualities we’re looking for on the U.S. Team in Sochi,” he said.
Saad and Leddy should be fine with the pressure, as both had to work to crack a deep lineup in their respective first years in Chicago. In recent years, the Blackhawks have been all about giving opportunities to those players who earn them, especially with their play. Saad did it this past season, grabbing a spot on the top line and not letting it go. Leddy has developed and adapted to his role on the blue line, earning special teams time because of it.
This is obviously a different kind of “audition” for Saad and Leddy. It’s a chance to play with your country’s name written across your chest and there won’t be a lot of spots up for grabs. Still, they’re there to be had. Saad and Leddy’s play earned them chances, and a Cup, with the Blackhawks. Their play this coming October through December could earn them even more.