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Hockey on trial: NHL Olympic hopefuls face vital 3-month showcase

Sean Leahy
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ARLINGTON, VA – Scanning the Olympic orientation camp rosters, you’ll probably notice the locks to make their respective sides. Then there are the guys on the bubble and finally, the long shots.

NHL players wanted to go to Sochi and while many already know they’ll have a plane ticket reserved in their name, others will have their fates decided over the course of the first three months of the season.

Sure, your main focus is helping your NHL team win, but your standing in the eyes of the Olympic coaching staffs has to weigh in the minds of some players if they have an off night, right?

“I think it crosses your mind,” said Ottawa Senators forward and Team USA hopeful Bobby Ryan. “I think it probably crosses your mind more when you’re watching box scores and see [Patrick Kane] had another four points.

“That’s what I thought about in 2009. It doesn’t when you’re playing. Certainly when you get out there the game is still the game and you’ve got other things on your mind and you’re trying to help the team you’re playing for commit to a win. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it 2009 and early 2010 quite a bit.”

Ryan was coming off a 31-goal, 57-point sophomore season and was on Team USA's radar for the 2010 Games in Vancouver. By the time the American roster was named on Jan. 1, Ryan had recorded 19 goals and 15 assists, good enough to earn him a spot on the U.S. roster.

While skaters can have their ups and downs during the Olympic evaluation period, their usefulness to their country’s squad could override any struggled they might experience. The need for a checking forward for an "energy" line could put a player ahead of a point producer, depending on the coaching staff's desires.

Goaltenders, however, have the toughest and most pressure-filled process.

Opportunities for goaltenders are limited, with only three ending up being able to call themselves Olympians. Skaters could play around 30-40 games before Olympic roster decisions are made, while goalies will likely get less ice time over that period. They have to be on every night.

The pressure is there, and while a player’s body of work certainly comes into the decision-making process, if a goaltender is struggling come December, their chances can take a big hit.

Craig Anderson of the Senators is one of those goalies. Ideally battling to be Team USA’s No. 3 netminder behind Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller, he knows there are a lot of factors that play into a goaltender’s success or failure.

“Bad games are going to happen. We’re human,” said Anderson.

“That’s just kind of the nature of things. The goaltending position is a funny position. A lot of it relies on your teammates and how well they play on a day in, day out basis. You do everything you can to show leadership in the room. You try to get your teammates to play for you and play hard and try to get that success because if your team has success or individual success, that’s kind of the way this team sport is. If you just want to have individual success, you’ll play golf and you don’t worry about your teammates.”

“[T]his is such a team game and so much relies on the other guys around you that you just have to go out there and give it your best and you just realize that at the end of the day, if you leave everything out there, you shouldn’t have any trouble sleeping at night.”

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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