Byfuglien, Amer­i­can Jets hit camp in U.S.

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - HOCKEY - By Ed Tait

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 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.”

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