Jets fuel Team USA

Four of Win­nipeg’s finest could be skat­ing in Sochi

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FRONT PAGE - By Ben Raby

AR­LING­TON, Va. — Zach Bo­gosian heard all about the 1980 Mir­a­cle on Ice while grow­ing up in up­state New York. “I used to go watch the ECAC (Hockey) Cham­pi­onships in Lake Placid ev­ery year,” the Win­nipeg Jets de­fence­man said Tues­day. “I re­mem­ber see­ing all the USA Hockey ban­ners and all the jer­seys. You felt some­thing ev­ery time you were there. That place just bleeds USA Hockey.”

Bo­gosian was three years old when his par­ents, Ike and Vicky, drove him and his two broth­ers 90 min­utes from Massena, N.Y., to Lake Placid for the first time. The trip be­came an an­nual tra­di­tion for the Bo­gosians, un­til Zach left home at 13 to pur­sue a ca­reer in pro­fes­sional hockey. The week­ends spent at the Olympic Cen­ter though, had a last­ing im­pact.

“You ap­pre­ci­ate the his­tory, so I’ve al­ways thought about it since I was a young kid,” Bo­gosian said of rep­re­sent­ing the United States. “That was the first thing I thought of when I put the sweater on — the guys who have their pic­tures on the walls at Lake Placid who did amaz­ing things. To have the op­por­tu­nity now to do it your­self is re­ally cool.”

Bo­gosian hopes that op­por­tu­nity comes in Fe­bru­ary at the 2014 Sochi Games. The 23-year-old was one of 48 in­vi­tees to USA Hockey’s Olympic ori­en­ta­tion camp, which con­cluded Tues­day at the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals’ train­ing fa­cil­ity. He was also one of four Jets at the camp, mak­ing them the most rep­re­sented NHL club on the Amer­i­cans’ pre­limin- ary ros­ter.

“I think it says some­thing about the or­ga­ni­za­tion and what we’re try­ing to build,” said Bo­gosian, who signed a seven-year, $36-mil­lion deal with Win­nipeg in July and was joined in north­ern Vir­ginia this week by team­mates Dustin Byfuglien and Blake Wheeler as well as Jets prospect Ja­cob Trouba.

While the Jets are well rep­re­sented at the U.S. camp, which con­sisted mostly of off-ice meet­ings and video ses­sions, there is no guar­an­tee any of the four Olympic hope­fuls are bound for Sochi.

Trouba, 19, ad­mits he is treat­ing the camp as a “learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence” and en­joy­ing be­ing in the com­pany of so many play­ers he grew up watch­ing. The 6-5, 265-pound Byfuglien con­cedes the larger in­ter­na­tional ice sur­face may not suit his game and both Bo­gosian and Wheeler ac­knowl­edge they have limited in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I feel like I’ve got a good shot at mak­ing it,” Byfuglien said, “but then you look at the lineup and the ros­ter sheet and you’re like ‘Geez, that’s a lot of good guys and a lot of good play­ers to beat out.’ ”

While the now full-time de­fence­man has proven him­self to be a work­horse (Byfuglien led the Jets and was fourth among all Amer­i­cans last sea­son skat­ing an aver­age of 24:24 per game), his mo­bil­ity could be a hin­drance on the big­ger in­ter­na­tional ice sur­face.

“You have to pick your spots and re­ally be aware of how much space there is,” Byfuglien said, adding his only ex­pe­ri­ence on an in­ter­na­tional-sized rink came in a Chicago Black­hawks ex­hi­bi­tion game in Europe in 2009. “I maybe can’t get away with the same things that I do (in the NHL) as far as be­ing (out of po­si­tion) and re­cov­er­ing.”

Byfuglien may be wary of the larger ice sur­face, but count Bo­gosian and Wheeler among the Amer­i­cans who are em­brac­ing the like­li­hood of more open ice and a quicker pace.

“I wouldn’t have to change my style too much,” said Bo­gosian, who last played for the U.S. at the 2009 IIHF World Hockey Cham­pi­onships. “The big ice will prob­a­bly help with my skat­ing, but also I want to play phys­i­cal. Tour­na­ments like this tend to have some smaller play­ers, the ma­jor­ity of them are skilled guys, so you get to be phys­i­cal against them as long as you’re aware of where they are on the ice and that’s my game.”

Wheeler, who had 19 goals and 41 points in 48 games last sea­son, last rep­re­sented the U.S. at the 2011 world cham­pi­onships. The 27-year-old spent the NHL lock­out play­ing in Ger­many though, and is also look­ing for­ward to a re­turn to Europe in 2014.

“The cat­a­lyst for my game is my skat­ing,” said Wheeler. “When I’m mov­ing my feet and hav­ing that ex­tra few feet along the wall, it makes a huge dif­fer­ence. I played (in Mu­nich) with (2010 U.S. Olympian) Paul Stastny and that big ice suited us. I know we were look­ing for­ward to play­ing on it again.”

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