|Patrick Kane talks with hockey players after a USA Hockey youth
clinic at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Aug. 26, 2013 in Arlington, Va.
ARLINGTON, Va. – Four years ago, as Patrick Kane geared up for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, he was considered an up-and-coming talent in the NHL and was touted as one of the players to watch on a young American squad.
Now, about six months before the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Kane has amassed two Stanley Cup titles with the Chicago Blackhawks, a Conn Smythe Trophy award as the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs and an Olympic silver medal. In the past week alone, he has done more in his hockey career than most people would ever do in their dreams, having taken the Stanley Cup on a whirlwind tour of his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday and then getting to don the newly unveiled USA Hockey jersey today as part the U.S. men’s team orientation camp.
He’s only 24 — he turns 25 in November — but in a very short time, he has established himself as arguably the best player on a U.S. team that will be looking for redemption at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
“I’m not young anymore,” Kane deadpanned.
Kane was among 48 players who came to the nation’s capital this week to participate in a series of meetings, youth clinics and media events as part of the U.S. men’s team orientation camp as preparation for the Winter Games in Sochi. It also was the first time so many members of the U.S. men’s silver-medal winning team in Vancouver were reunited. Fifteen players who were in Vancouver, including Kane, participated in the camp.
The energy inside the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, the NHL’s Washington Capitals training rink, was all about Team USA. There were large banners glorifying the 1960 and 1980 Olympic gold-medal winning teams, plastered around the rink. The 2014 jerseys for Sochi were unveiled. And fans wearing Capitals jerseys were even cheering for Dan Bylsma, whose day job is coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins but whose Olympic-year job is to guide the U.S. men’s team to gold in Sochi.
So although Kane had a blast celebrating his latest Stanley Cup win by taking the trophy to Niagara Falls, toting it on a Zamboni and sharing it with members of the military this past weekend, he seemed just as eager to put on the Team USA jersey again and get back in the Olympic mindset this week. Back in 2010 in Vancouver, Team USA — as nearly 30 million TV viewers witnessed — lost the gold-medal game, 3-2, in overtime, to Canada. It is a memory that remains fresh in Kane’s mind and one he hopes to offset by winning a gold medal in Sochi.
Kane admitted he is more experienced this time around but also noted that he’s not satisfied.
“After the silver in 2010 you’ve got to expect to go there to win,” Kane, the right winger, said. “That’s the only reason you’re there. It’s gold or bust for us this time around.”
The average age of the U.S. team in 2010 was 26.5 years. Although the U.S. men’s team remains young heading into Sochi — goaltender Ryan Miller was the oldest player in camp at 33 — its leaders come into this Olympic season with hefty resumes and a lot of fighting spirit.
Not one player in camp was alive when Mike Eruzione helped conquer the seemingly impenetrable Soviet Union in Lake Placid, but all of the players in camp are well aware that the United States has not won a gold medal in Olympic hockey since 1980.
Many of the players who were at camp this week who are holdovers from the 2010 team are still bitter about the loss to Canada and are already awaiting the puck to drop in Sochi for another chance to win Olympic gold. Center Paul Stastny, for one, said it took him almost an entire Olympic cycle to frame his silver medal from Vancouver.
“I had it in a safe for (almost) four years,” Stastny said. “I always think about it as losing the gold instead of winning the silver.”
Although the defeat was difficult to take, Stastny said he definitely appreciates the experience of representing his country more now than he did back in 2010. This past May, he captained the U.S. team at the men’s ice hockey world championships and help guide Team USA to a bronze medal. Getting another shot to play for Team USA in Sochi he said, “obviously would be one of the highest honors in the world.”
The Americans’ memories of Vancouver remain bittersweet (after all, they were not expected to medal at all, but came away just short of the ultimate prize), but the players realize their efforts on the ice in 2010 have made huge impacts on the sport since. Forward Bobby Ryan, who played for Team USA in Vancouver, noted that he’s seen a huge jump in interest in the sport in places such as Anaheim, Calif., where he played when he was younger.
“It’s incredible, especially when you see the effect (the gold-medal game in Vancouver) had on little kids,” Ryan said. “It’s really cool. It’s nice to see a boom in a city like that where ice is really hard to come by.”
Several players who helped lead the United States to the gold medal at the world junior championship last year, were invited to camp this year.
Among those players was Seth Jones, the youngest player in camp at 18. He said he watched the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game at his home and can recall every detail, even Sidney Crosby’s game-winner. Although Jones, the 6-4, 206-pound defenseman and son of former NBA player “Popeye” Jones, is considered a longshot to make the team in Sochi, he realized how much just being at camp will help him down the road — perhaps at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Twenty-five players will be on the Team USA roster in Sochi.
“I hope to make it,” Jones said of Sochi. “But it’s cool to learn from these guys.”
Kane, now a veteran, is one of those guys who will be in a leadership role. He said one of the keys to the Americans’ almost-perfect run in Vancouver was that the players jelled so well.
“Maybe we don’t have as many high-end names as the Canadians and Russians have,” Kane said. “But one of the reasons why we were really successful in 2010 is that everyone bought into their role.”
A lot has changed for Kane and his U.S. teammates since Vancouver, but he’s hoping that that is one thing that will stay the same this time in Sochi.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she has covered two Olympic Games and two Olympic Winter Games. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.