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 that 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’ preliminary 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.
“It shows that we have some guys that are well thought of, especially with USA Hockey,” said Wheeler, the lone forward of the Jets quartet. “It’s exciting, especially for a kid like Trouba who hasn’t played an NHL game, yet they think enough of him to include him in this group. That just speaks to the kind of kid he is and we’re lucky to have guys like that in our organization.”
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 that any of the four Olympic hopefuls are bound for Sochi.
Trouba, 19, admits that he is treating the camp as a “learning experience” and enjoying being in the company of so many players he grew up watching. The six-foot-five, 265-pound Byfuglien concedes that the larger international ice surface may not suit his game and both Bogosian and Wheeler acknowledge that 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.'”
Byfuglien, 28, attended the Americans’ 2009 Olympic orientation camp as a forward but has never represented USA Hockey in an international tournament. 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 that 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 Stasny and that big ice suited us and I know we were looking forward to playing on it again.”