LOS ANGELES — With the 2010 Olympic Winter Games now in full swing, the hockey world is now focused on Vancouver and, more specifically, on the men’s Olympic hockey tournament beginning today.
Five Los Angeles Kings players are in Vancouver, including right wing Dustin Brown (United States), defenseman Drew Doughty (Canada), center Michal Handzus (Slovakia), defenseman Jack Johnson and goaltender Jonathan Quick (USA), and they are chomping at the bit, raring to go.
“I couldn’t wait for it to happen,” Doughty said about the Olympic tournament. “It’s been in the back of my mind even though my main focus is the Kings. I can’t wait to get to Vancouver and get the games going.”
Speaking of being unable to wait, Johnson left the Kings with permission on February 12 to participate in the Opening Ceremonies.
Even though the Kings had played the night before and had another game on February 13, Johnson was not going to miss the Opening Ceremonies—he wanted the full Olympic experience.
“It’s the opening ceremony of the Winter Games,” Johnson exclaimed. “It’s a no-brainer. I had the opportunity, so why waste it? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If I’m fortunate enough to play in the next one, it’s in Russia. I can’t just go over and back.”
“Last night, when we gathered up all the athletes, we didn’t know each other, we didn’t even know what sport each other played,” he explained. “But, instantly, you’ve got that bond and connection because you’re all representing the USA.”
“It was the coolest experience I’ve ever had in my life, it’s something I’ll never forget. It was something that meant a lot to me to get the full Olympic experience.”
Johnson chartered a private jet for the trip, and returned to Los Angeles around midnight on Saturday morning. But he was on the ice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California for the Kings’ morning skate prior to their game that night against the Colorado Avalanche.
Despite the whirlwind trip and lack of rest, Johnson did not look at all fatigued after his team’s 3-0 victory over the Avalanche. He was ready and fired up for the Olympics, even though Team USA is not expected to win a medal in the tournament.
“I don’t think there is any pressure being underdogs,” said Johnson. “We’re going in under the radar. That’s fine with us. Everyone in that room knows how good we are and how good we can be.”
“All the pressure is on Canada, for sure,” added Johnson. “They’re expected to win in their home country and there’s a lot of pressure on all of their athletes to win some medals in their homeland.”
But a medal is what Johnson and USA teammate Dustin Brown are focused on.
“That’s what we’re striving for—to be included in [those] three teams,” said Brown. “To win a gold medal would be a huge honor. It’s going to take a lot of work and dedication.”
While Johnson was flying high, already in the Olympic mood after the Kings’ win over the Avs, Brown was not excited at all.
Not yet, anyway.
“Once I get there and get settled and rested, I’m sure I’ll be pretty excited,” said Brown. “It’s one of those things where I have to get in that mindset. The whole team gets there Monday, so that’s when it’ll start for me.”
For Team USA to succeed, Brown pointed out that they are going to have to come together and build chemistry quickly.
“Every player is going to be good,” he stressed. “The most important thing is getting into the system because it’ll be a little different from [the Kings’ system]. Everyone’s coming from different systems so that’s probably what we’re going to key on as players.”
Johnson is not worried at all about building chemistry.
“Fortunately, we all know each other going into that locker room,” said Johnson. “Even though we play on different teams, we’ll be as tight-knit of a group of teammates as you’ll ever see.”
But for Team USA to have a shot at a medal, goaltender Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, who has been named as Team USA’s number one goaltender and is expected to play in every game, might have to be the top player in the tournament.
“He’s been, arguably, the best goalie in the league thus far,” Brown noted. “He has great experience, he’s been in the Olympics before and he’s a great goalie. We’re pretty confident in what he can bring to the table—he’s got a Vezina Trophy behind him.”
If Miller falters, Quick might get the call, as Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins has struggled lately.
“Quick is my goalie, so I don’t have to tell you how much confidence I have in him,” said Brown.
At twenty years of age, Doughty is the youngest member of Team Canada, and was clearly excited to be heading to Vancouver to represent his country in the Olympic Winter Games.
“I’ll play with anyone, I’ll do anything I have to do,” he said. “I’m just happy to be on that team.”
Although he might just be happy to be there, like the rest of Canada, Doughty is expecting Team Canada to win the gold medal.
“I know we’ve got a strong team,” said Doughty. “We’re really confident. I’m sure we’re going to win that gold medal. Canada’s always one of the teams to beat and we’ve got so many good players on that team.”
“Just to be on the team is a huge honor. I’m really excited to get going.”
Kings head coach Terry Murray also shared his thoughts about the Olympic tournament.
“It’s going to be very exciting,” he said. “You probably have four teams that are going to have an opportunity to win a gold medal. It comes down to winning one game. It’s not a seven-game series, you don’t have to beat anybody four out of seven. Anybody can play a great game. A goaltender can win one game.”
“I know, going in, Canada is a pretty heavy favorite,” he added. “But the USA, the Russians—I’ve got to think the Finns, who are pretty well put together as a group, they have an opportunity there also.”
With five Kings players in the Olympic tournament, they are eventually going to face each other on opposite sides of the red line. So what might happen when Kings teammates meet each other wearing different jerseys?
“Starting tomorrow morning, they’re not my teammates anymore,” said Johnson. “If they’ve got a different country’s jersey on, they’re no teammates of mine.”
“They’ll be my teammates when this tournament’s over, but between now and then, only people wearing red, white and blue are my teammates.”
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