Like an odd-man rush, team building will have to happen on the fly for the 2006 U.S. Olympic hockey squad. It won’t happen in this week’s three-day Olympic orientation camp at World Arena Ice Hall, or in the lone practice scheduled between now and the first game a g a i n s t Latvia on Feb. 15. Off-ice bonding? Instead of a ropes course, there’s the shared experience of filling out drug-testing paperwork for these Olympic hopefuls. For most other international teams, the days of a monthslong pre-Olympic exhibition season, like that of the gold medal 1980 U.S. team, are gone. Much of the recent movie, “Miracle,” was based on the team’s boot-camp-like Olympic buildup under Herb Brooks. Now there’s no boot camp. Just NHL games. “It’s a lot different now,” said Los Angeles Kings defenseman Aaron Miller, a 2002 Olympian and former Avalanche player. “In 2002, I had a game in the NHL on a Wednesday, then I had a game at the Olympics on Friday. You just leave, go and play. There’s no hanging out and bonding for a year for the team. You’re in there and you play in the Olympics. “That’s what makes some- thing like this (camp) so important. If you can learn a couple things about a guy, just to get to know him a little better, it’s so important for the team to jell in the short time you have.” When camp concludes with today’s scrimmage, players scatter to their various NHL teams when training camp begins next week. They’ll be auditioning for the Olympic team as they play their NHL schedule before the team’s roster is submitted by Jan. 10. “It’ll definitely be in the back of my mind,” said Jason Blake, 32, of the New York Islanders. Truth is, pre-Olympic team chemistry may be overrated. It worked in 1980. But in 2001, while preparing for the Salt Lake Olympics, Brooks railed against the NHL Players Association, even threatening to quit as Olympic coach, for not giving him more days with players. Brooks could have saved his breath. That team, with current camp members Miller, Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk and Chris Drury, reached the gold-medal game, losing to Canada. Time will tell if this works with a prominent number of first-time Olympic hopefuls in the mix. “You do team-bonding things when you actually have a team,” said Laviolette, who traveled the country as a player on the 1988 and 1994 Olympic teams. This camp hasn’t ignored the traditional getting-toknow-you exercises. After practice Wednesday morning, players split up for golf or fly-fishing. They gathered for a welcome barbecue Monday night, and some played golf Tuesday. Players are staying at the posh Broadmoor Hotel this week, but they’re sharing rooms. The 34-year-old Miller is rooming with 29-year-old Richard Park. “He’s a little more intense than I am, he’s an equipment freak,” Miller said with a chuckle. “He’s always worrying that everything’s perfect, and I’m sleeping. But it’s great, it works out perfect.” Maybe on this kind of accelerated schedule, what you don’t know about your teammate won’t hurt you. Most Team USA members will likely play an NHL game Feb. 12; fly to the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, the next day; have a practice; play Latvia; then play four more games in the next six days. If they’re lucky enough to reach the Feb. 26 gold-medal game, they’ll barely have enough time to heal a hangover before NHL games resume Feb. 28. In the months between now and then, Laviolette can only hope the team’s best bonding agent will be some pre-Games telepathy. If they can’t play together, they can at least dream together. “We’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done in 26 years,” Laviolette said of winning Olympic gold. “We need to think about that. We need to dream about that at night.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0259 or email@example.com
Colorado Springs Gazette has disabled the comments for this article.