One of the best things about playing youth hockey is participating in tournaments. Everyone piles into a van and travels to exotic places such as Belleville, Ont., or Erie, Pa. After mini-stick games break out in the hotel hallway, it’s off to face teams from far-off lands like Syracuse or Cleveland.
It’s a fun time, one that brings smiles to the faces of NHL players when they look back. It’s why Ryan Miller is such a fan of the Olympics.
“It’s outside the box,” said the Sabres goaltender. “We don’t get to do that stuff anymore. When you’re a kid you play a lot of tournaments. You have a lot of different situations to see parts of the world. When you’re a kid it’s going to Canada, but in this situation it’s cool to go play the world championships. It’s cool to go play the Olympics, see different things, play for your country and see other people with their pride and patriotism.
“It’s a different kind of experience than the NHL grind. It’s nice to mix it up.”
Miller was the star of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, leading the United States to a silver medal. A month from today, he should earn a ticket to Russia for the 2014 Olympics.
USA Hockey will announce its 25-player roster New Year’s Day at the Winter Classic. The crowd of 100,000-plus in Michigan Stadium will hear names such as Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter, Phil Kessel and Zach Parise.
Miller should get called, too, after putting up a .918 save percentage on a team that has allowed about 1 million shots this season.
“I’m trying not to think about it much,” Miller said. “In my mind it’s just something I have to earn and a situation where I have to be at the top of my game to even be considered.”
He should be, and he will be. Here’s my guess on who will make the roster — plus players who should — while keeping in mind the front-runners and hopefuls still have a month left to impress General Manager David Poile (Nashville), Associate GM Ray Shero (Pittsburgh), player personnel director Brian Burke (Calgary) and coach Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh).
The picks: Miller, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick and Detroit’s Jimmy Howard. Quick was long considered the front-runner, but his groin injury (suffered Nov. 12 in Buffalo) could keep him out until January. The Games don’t start until Feb. 12, so Quick should be back in form by then. Still, Miller deserves a chance to recapture his Olympic magic in Sochi.
The hopefuls: Florida’s Tim Thomas, Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, New Jersey’s Cory Schneider and Ottawa’s Craig Anderson. A source with ties to the goalie network insists Thomas will be on the roster given his track record with USA Hockey.
I’d swap: Howard for Bishop. U.S. brass said regular-season play will be a factor, and the 27-year-old Bishop has dominated for the Lightning.
The picks: Chicago’s Kane, Minnesota’s Parise, Toronto’s Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, St. Louis’ David Backes and T.J. Oshie, the Rangers’ Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan, San Jose’s Joe Pavelski, Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, Los Angeles’ Dustin Brown and Colorado’s Paul Stastny.
The hopefuls: Minnesota’s Jason Pominville, Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk, Chicago’s Brandon Saad, Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler and the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo. The 19-year-old Galchenyuk, born in Milwaukee, will be an American regular in the future.
I’d swap: Stepan for Pominville. This is not a homer pick. Pominville has earned it, entering Saturday’s games tied for third among U.S. players with 13 goals.
The picks: Minnesota’s Suter, Pittsburgh’s Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik, St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Phoenix’s Keith Yandle, the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh, Colorado’s Erik Johnson and Columbus’ Jack Johnson.
The hopefuls: Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien, Nashville’s Seth Jones, Carolina’s Justin Faulk, Washington’s John Carlson and Anaheim’s Cam Fowler. This position is in serious flux. Martin was a lock, but he suffered a broken leg last week and will miss at least a month. Jones is a 19-year-old star who could be the future face of USA Hockey. Carlson does it all.
I’d swap: No one.
“I’ve enjoyed watching the American guys play and just trying to keep tabs on them, not just goalies,” Miller said. “It’s been fun. It’s an exciting kind of year. It’s the first full year back after a lockout, and to have the Olympics in a great country where they really worship hockey as much as any country I can think of, it’s great.”
Treliving’s name pops up
Add Phoenix’s Brad Treliving to the short list of general manager candidates for Buffalo. The 44-year-old is making a name for himself in the desert as the assistant GM, a position he’s held for seven seasons.
Treliving, who is also vice president of hockey operations and GM of the Coyotes’ minor-league club, helps in all personnel decisions and manages the amateur and pro scouting staffs. It’s not clear if Buffalo has asked for permission to interview Treliving.
“Brad is a very, very important person in our organization,” Phoenix GM Don Maloney said. “We’d have to think very long and very hard about granting permission during the course of a season.”
Alfie going back to Ottawa
Detroit’s Daniel Alfredsson makes his much-anticipated return to Ottawa today.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotions going through my head,” said Alfredsson, who spent 17 seasons in Canada’s capital.
There was friction between the longtime captain and Senators owner Eugene Melnyk following Alfredsson’s departure, but it will be put aside for now.
“We’ll recognize what Daniel has done in Ottawa and what he means to our fans,” Melnyk told Ottawa radio station Team 1200. “We’re going to do a very nice video tribute before the game starts. … I think he’ll be happy and the fans will be happy. We’re going to give him his due recognition.”
Philadelphia’s Vincent Lecavalier dealt with the emotions of a return Wednesday when the longtime Lightning star played in Tampa for the first time.
“It was just being out there in warm-ups and seeing people with my jersey and with cards saying we miss you and all that, it really got me,” Lecavalier said.
On the fly
• The Kings’ goaltending situation, which has Ben Scrivens excelling in Quick’s absence, is reminiscent of what happened in Buffalo before the 2006 Olympics. Miller got hurt, and Martin Biron stepped in and went 14-4-1. Miller reassumed the No. 1 role upon his return, and it’s expected Quick will do the same.
• As Scott Hartnell goes, so go the Flyers. Since he arrived in 2007, Philadelphia is 85-20-10 when he scores a goal.
• Los Angeles just completed its annual father-son road trip, but Kings forward Jordan Nolan had to improvise. Ted Nolan was obviously busy with the Sabres, so Jordan brought along brother Brandon instead.
• It’s not wise to offer a 35-year-old player a four-year, $30 million contract like the Sabres reportedly did with Shane Doan in 2012. Still, Doan keeps chugging along. Now 37 and in the second season of a four-year, $21.2 million deal, the Coyotes’ captain put up 11 goals and 20 points in the opening 24 games.