When it came to naming a captain for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, coach Dan Bylsma wanted a leader who would embody the identity of his squad, the approach his team takes to the game, and ultimately the manner in which it will play.
Bylsma found his man in Zach Parise.
USA Hockey announced Friday that Parise, a Minnesota Wild forward who served as an alternate captain for the 2010 Olympic silver medal-winning U.S. team, would be the captain for the 2014 squad which will compete in the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
|Zach Parise #9 celebrate after a late goal in front of Mark Streit #7 (SUI) during the quarterfinal game between USA and Switzerland at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 24, 2010.
“It’s special to be named captain of any team, but when it’s a national team, when it’s an Olympic team, it’s extra special,” said Parise, who got the call from Bylsma while eating lunch on Newport Beach, Calif., near Anaheim, during an off-day between games. “It was special when I got the call from coach Bylsma. It’s very humbling, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Los Angeles Kings’ captain Dustin Brown and Parise’s teammate, Minnesota Wild alternate captain Ryan Suter, were named alternate captains for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. Brown and Suter were alternate captains on the U.S. team in 2010. Brown has captained the Kings for six seasons, winning a Stanley Cup in 2012, while Suter has served as an alternate in Minnesota the past two years.
“All of these players are not only great players, but from our experiences with them in 2010 and other USA events over the years, we knew they were great leaders,” said David Poile, general manager of the Nashville Predators and the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team.
The three are part of a five-player leadership group for Team USA, joining New York Rangers’ captain Ryan Callahan and St. Louis Blues’ captain David Backes.
“We have a lot of players who are great leaders,” said Parise, who returned to NHL action last week after missing 14 games with a broken left foot. “I’m going to need a lot of help and I’m going to get a lot of help. There are plenty of guys that wear letters with their own team, so I don’t think our team is going to be lacking in leadership at all.”
Leadership and experience are certainly strengths of this year’s team, which features 13 Americans who were part of the 2010 silver-medal-winning effort in Vancouver. Those 13 players have a chance to win two medals in Olympic ice hockey competition, a feat only eight Americans have accomplished.
“The identity of the 2010 team, and how they played, and the mentality in which they played is largely how our identity will be this time around as well,” said Bylsma, who also coaches the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. “We think we’re a hard team to play against. We think we have a team with a blue-collar mentality. Zach embodies that as a player, and he is that as a person.”
Parise, in his second season as alternate captain in Minnesota, served as captain and alternate captain previously with the New Jersey Devils. He was also an alternate captain on the 2008 U.S. men’s national team and the 2004 U.S. National Junior Team that brought the United States its first gold medal in World Junior Championship play.
Parise, who tied for the team lead in goals and points during the 2010 Winter Games, very nearly brought the United States its first gold medal since the legendary 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team when he scored the game-tying goal with 24.5 seconds left in the 2010 gold-medal game against Canada.
“Every time we play against Zach Parise, there’s a never-quit, a determination, and an abrasiveness about being hard to play against that type of player,” Bylsma said. “Regardless of the score, and the situation the team might be in, that’s what you see, and that’s what you get every time. That’s exactly how we want to play.”
Parise believes the team has already established a solid identity returning 13 players from the hard-working, gritty 2010 squad.
“That’s the way we have to play to be successful,” Parise said. “It’s so important in these short tournaments to get better every game.”
Parise plans to draw on experience from the recently retired Jamie Langenbrunner, a close friend who captained the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team and New Jersey during Parise’s tenure with the Devils.
“I learned a lot from him,” Parise said. “When I came to New Jersey, he was great with me and the younger players. That’s something you don’t forget. Jamie is the type of guy who isn’t overly vocal in the locker room, but you know he’s going to play hard and play the right way every game because he leads by example. I think that’s the sign of a really good captain.”
Parise is just trying to do his part to lead the United States to its first gold medal in more than three decades. The United States players arrive in Sochi Feb. 10 with practices scheduled for three days before the team’s first game Feb. 13 against Slovakia, which fell against Finland in the 2010 bronze-medal game. One of the most anticipated games for the United States comes Feb. 15 against host nation Russia.
“The excitement is definitely building now, and we’re really looking forward to it,” Parise said. “I know we have a few games left before we go over there, but it’s getting pretty exciting now.”