Burke: Six players in play for three spots

December, 14, 2009

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- The U.S. men's Olympic team continued to take shape Monday, and after a four-hour meeting by the management team, the available roster spots are beginning to seriously dwindle.

"We're whittling away at a number of decisions," Team USA GM Brian Burke told a small group of media Monday night. "There's probably six guys in play for the last three spots on the team."

Burke assembled with the rest of the management team -- Nashville GM David Poile, Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero, Atlanta GM Don Waddell, Philadelphia GM Paul Holmgren, Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi -- on the eve of the NHL's board of governors meetings. The group was planning to meet again Tuesday morning.

The last few decisions are difficult, and critical. The team will be announced Jan. 1 at Fenway Park during the Winter Classic.

"We can't just take the 23 best players," said Burke. "If we just take the 23 best players and try to beat Canada and Russia, we're going to lose at that game. We have to take some people that are good at specific jobs."

Because of that, there might be one or two forwards that surprise. I personally think a player like Paul Gaustad of the Buffalo Sabres, despite being hurt right now, has played his way on the bubble even though he wasn't at the U.S. summer orientation camp in Chicago.

"There's two guys in the hunt that were not at the camp," was all Burke would say, obviously refusing to name names.

If Gaustad is one, goalie Craig Anderson is the other after his terrific opening three months. But I think when push comes to shove, the three goalies will be Ryan Miller, Tim Thomas and Jonathan Quick.

Injured players are a tough call for the management group. But keep in mind the tournament isn't until February, and an injured player can be replaced until the eve of the Olympic opening game.

"Paul Martin is coming back from a broken forearm, he's close to returning," said Burke. "You've got David Booth [concussion], who's managing light exercise with mixed results. So we'll have to see ..."

Burke likes what this roster is looking like, but again stressed the fact that the U.S. is going into Vancouver as an underdog.

"I'm not trying to create this role. I'd love to come in as the favorite," said Burke. "But we're not. Every dime in this tournament will be bet on Canada and Russia and maybe a few on Sweden. No one is going to look at us at all, and that's OK. The tournament is in Canada and we'll come in as the underdog, but we're still going there to win."

Asked whether host Canada might wilt under the incredible pressure of delivering the gold, Burke didn't duck the question.

"I think the pressure will be tremendous for Canada," he said. "Do I hope it's too much for them? I'm not going to wish the Canadian team any ill will at all. When we play them, we intend to try and beat them. But I am confident, though, that the pressure will be massive and unrelenting."

As the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Burke is in an interesting position while running the enemy country for the Olympics. He's been hearing about it in Toronto.

"I have no illusions or delusions about where Maple Leafs are on this," said Burke. "There will be a period of two weeks where I will keep a very low profile."

He recounted a funny anecdote.

"A guy came up to me on the subway last week, and he said, 'Mr. Burke, I want to wish you all the luck in the world. I can't wait until they hand you the silver medal.'"

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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