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HOCKEY 39 Olympic hopefuls set to gather for orientation


Published: Mon, September 5, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.


The group of hopefuls for the 2006 Winter Olympics has NHL experience.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) -- If the U.S hockey team skates off with a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, no one will call it a miracle or rush to make a major motion picture.
Truth is, it might not be all that surprising.
This is not 1980 and these players aren't unknown college kids like the ones who shocked the world by beating what was thought to be an invincible Soviet team during the height of the Cold War.
Starting Tuesday, 39 Olympic hopefuls from 21 NHL teams will gather for a three-day orientation camp at the home of USA Hockey. Many of the invited players are familiar because most have spent time in the NHL.
There are former Olympians and Stanley Cup champions. There is a good blend of veteran experience and a healthy dose of fresh, young energy.
None have won gold
But no active American player has won an Olympic gold medal. Only the 1960 and 1980 U.S. squads that played on home ice have claimed the prize.
Some from this group won't make it to Italy in February for the 2006 games. And some who weren't asked to this camp will likely make the trek to the Olympics, the third time NHL players will be used.
Brett Hull and John LeClair, the top two scorers for the U.S. team that won a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, aren't in attendance. They will have plenty of time with their new NHL teams -- Hull with Phoenix and LeClair in Pittsburgh -- to prove they still have the offensive punch coach Peter Laviolette will want in Turin.
Because Olympic tryouts really begin the first week in October when the NHL returns from a season-long lockout, players will have a few months to show they deserve a spot on the team. Past performance for national squads will only count so much.
Carolina Hurricanes coach Laviolette and U.S. general manager Don Waddell of the Atlanta Thrashers won't just be watching their teams during the first few months of the regular season, but will be keeping watchful eyes on all Americans around the league.
"The process will begin when the season begins," Waddell said. "This is an orientation camp, it's not a tryout camp that we're having."
List of potential players
A list of 60 to 70 potential players will be submitted to the International Ice Hockey Federation Oct. 1. It will be whittled down until a roster is chosen about a month before the games get under way in mid-February.
Four goalies, 21 forwards and 14 defensemen were invited to the orientation camp that will include three on-ice practice sessions, with players divided into two groups on both NHL and Olympic-sized rinks.
Experience will only go so far because the United States will open play in Turin with six games in nine nights. Fresh legs will be a must, and that's where the youngsters become that much more important.
"I think that people who have watched me coach in the past know that I like to have an aggressive style and an up-tempo type of game," Laviolette said. "Who those players will be, I'm not really sure."


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