Byfuglien, American Jets hit camp in U.S.
THERE is no bigger stage in international hockey than the Olympics.
And while many of this nation’s media are gathered in Calgary to gobble up every public moment of Team Canada’s orientation camp, four Winnipeg Jets are in Virginia to chase the same dream for the United States.
“Sometimes it’s hard to dream as big as this,” Jets winger Blake Wheeler, a product of Robbinsdale, Minn., told E.J. Hradek of NHL.com at the American camp on Monday. “This is the pinnacle, getting the opportunity to represent the United States at the Olympics, and it’s almost something you can’t even dream of. So, just to be in this position, to come to this camp, has been a real dream come true.”
Wheeler is joined this week by fellow American Jets Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian and Jacob Trouba — all defencemen — at the Washington Capitals’ practice facility in Arlington, Va. Of the 48 players invited to the camp, 16 were on the roster in Vancouver when the U.S. lost to Canada in the gold-medal game.
None of the Jets have Olympic experience, although Trouba was part of the American team that won bronze at the 2013 IIHF World Championships this past spring.
Byfuglien’s invitation was intriguing, not because of his offensive capabilities, but given the fitness concerns and the fact the 28-year-old has never suited up for the Americans internationally (he was selected to play for the U.S. at the 2008 worlds but did not participate due to injury). He was invited to the U.S. camp in 2009, but was not selected to the Olympic team.
Experience It’s that experience Byfuglien is drawing on again this week in Virginia.
“It was just getting the experience and being around a different group of guys that you had worked so hard against the corners,” he told Hradek. “To be able to share a locker-room and get to know them and enjoy the time being part of the U.S. program means a lot. As a kid growing up you always paid attention with what was going on, and the Olympics and everything was just something that was exciting.
“It would mean a lot (to be selected). It’s one of those things that’s hard to explain. It’s something you dream about as a kid, and as I’m getting older I want to be in the Olympics and at least do something for the USA. It’s a great opportunity to have and hopefully we can make things so we can put on the jersey.”
Wheeler admitted this invitation — and the prospect of playing for the U.S. next February — will be in the back of his mind the moment the NHL season starts in October. Some good months prior to the Olympic team’s selection could be critical in his shot at a roster spot.
“Obviously, all of us want to make this team,” he said. “You’re going to have that in the back of your head. But I really believe if you are focused on the right things and focused on trying to help your team win in Winnipeg, good things are going to happen.
“You’ve got to be playing your best hockey and, from there, just make it tough for the people in charge. When it comes down to making a team or getting picked for a team, that’s really out of your hands.”