With a roster tilted toward newcomers to the Olympic scene, the 2006 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s hopes for winning a gold medal might rest on speed. As in how fast will the two groups — veterans and new guys — mesh? Of 23 players named to the team Monday night, 12 are new to the Olympics, including Colorado Avalanche defenseman John-Michael Liles and all three goaltenders. Denver native John Grahame, 30, who plays for Tampa Bay, is one of them. While Canada appears to be the gold standard again in the Olympics, set for Feb. 15-26 in Turin, Italy, the U.S. team takes up the chase with proven talent in three-time Olympians Chris Chelios, 43, and Keith Tkachuk, 33, along with twotime Olympians Bill Guerin, 35; Mike Modano, 35; Brian Rolston, 32 and Doug Weight, 34. Their message: We can teach. But we still can play. “We feel like we have so much left to give and a lot left in the tank,” Chelios said. “Hopefully these guys . . . can look up to us and we can come together as a team.” Tkachuk was named despite suffering two injuries that have limited him this season. The latest is broken knuckles. But in 10 games, Tkachuk has scored eight goals and has seven assists for St. Louis despite starting the season out of shape. “He’s too much of a force when he’s on his game not to be on your team,” said Jim Johannson, director of hockey operations for USA Hockey. “He got himself back in shape and was playing well.” Team officials were told last week they are allowed to bring up to three replacements to the Games in case of injury. Team general manager Don Waddell, the Atlanta Thrashers’ GM, said those players likely would be named in the next month. Some players are new to the Games, but they’re not new to the game. Detroit’s Mathieu Schneider, who at 36 is the team’s second-oldest player, is a first-time Olympian as well as others like Philadelphia’s Mike Knuble (33) and N.Y. Islander Jason Blake (32). A U.S. team loaded with familiar names won surprise silver in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, losing to Canada. The last time the Americans won gold was 1980’s “Miracle on Ice.” Said Brian Gionta, New Jersey’s rising star: “If we don’t” win a gold medal, “I don’t think we’ll be happy.” The team has 13 forwards, seven defensemen and three goaltenders. Of the seven defensemen, just two — Jordan Leopold and Liles, both 25 — are first-time Olympians. Six of 13 forwards have been to the Games before. Coach Peter Laviolette said officials didn’t have specific lines or defensive pairings in mind. “Any line, any combination should be able to contribute any night,” he said. Waddell said the team has speed, grit, scoring ability and uncommon depth on defense. Waddell said Liles, who leads all Avalanche defensemen with eight goals and 24 points in 33 games, was named to the team in part because of his scoring. “He’s a guy who moves the puck,” Laviolette said. “He should help offensively and on the power play.” The team will also have to cope with an Olympic schedule that means playing six games in eight nights. The team’s average age is 31.2. The 20-somethings include goaltender Rick DiPetro, 24, the youngest on the team. This will be the first time since 1994 the U.S. team will have a set of goaltenders new to the Olympics. Each has played in at least one world championship and starts for his NHL team. “I don’t see that much of an adjustment in the Olympics,” Laviolette said. Former Avalanche notables Aaron Miller, now with Los Angeles and Buffalo’s Chris Drury, were among the nine who played in Salt Lake. Officials used the NHL season as tryouts, but team selection began at a three-day Olympic orientation camp at World Arena in early September. Notables left off the roster include Brian Leetch, Bret Hedican and Jeremy Roenick. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0259 or firstname.lastname@example.org THE TEAM Goaltenders Rick DiPietro, New York Islanders; Robert Esche, Philadelphia Flyers; John Grahame, Tampa Bay Lightning. Defensemen Chris Chelios, Detroit Red Wings; Derian Hatcher, Philadelphia Flyers; Jordan Leopold, Calgary Flames; John-Michael Liles, Colorado Avalanche; Aaron Miller, Los Angeles Kings; Brian Rafalski, New Jersey Devils; Mathieu Schneider, Detroit Red Wings. Forwards Jason Blake, New York Islanders; Erik Cole, Carolina Hurricanes; Craig Conroy, Los Angeles Kings; Chris Drury, Buffalo Sabres; Brian Gionta, New Jersey Devils; Scott Gomez, New Jersey Devils; Bill Guerin, Dallas Stars; Mike Knuble, Philadelphia Flyers; Mike Modano, Dallas Stars; Mark Parrish, New York Islanders; Brian Rolston, Minnesota Wild; Keith Tkachuk, St. Louis Blues; Doug Weight, St. Louis Blues. SCHEDULE U.S. hockey lead-up to 2006 Olympic Games tournament Feb. 12 Last NHL games before Olympic break Feb. 13 U.S. Olympic team leaves for Turin, Italy Feb. 14 Practice Feb. 15 U.S. vs. Latvia
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