Seven Thoughts from U.S. Olympic Camp
College Hockey Inc. had the chance to attend U.S. Olympic Orientation Camp, which gathered the top 48 players in the nation in Arlington, Va., in preparation for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
The group included 33 former college players and while there was no on-ice component, the players were busy with video sessions, team building, media activities and more.
Here are seven impressions I took away from the three days:
* The pride our college alums take in their NCAA experience is energizing. You sense it in our videos but it's even more apparent in casual conversation. Each one I spoke with was happy to talk about how much he gained from the college experience.
* Head coach Dan Bylsma, formerly of Bowling Green, may be the proudest alum of all. I heard him mention the Falcons at least three times, including once when the Pittsburgh Penguins coach was asked if he felt uncomfortable in the Washington Capitals facility. No, he said, because Caps GM George McPhee is a fellow Falcon.
* Of all the ways you could break down the roster of attendees, the most impressive may be that four were teammates in college - Jake Gardiner, Ryan McDonagh, Craig Smith and Derek Stepan, who all played on the 2010 Wisconsin team that reached the NCAA championship game. Ryan Suter and Joe Pavelski were other Badgers in attendance, with Smith noting that it was those guys who he looked up to as a younger player.
* David Backes, who has his pilot's license, took in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum after checking in on Sunday. The Minnesota State alum is one of the more fascinating and engaging players in the NHL. He said his goal going to MSU was to study electrical engineering and become a patent lawyer - but it turned out that his hockey ability progressed a little more than he anticipated. He should be one of the leaders of the U.S. team.
* Goaltending, which figures to be a strength of the U.S. team, could be an all-NCAA position. Most experts peg Jonathan Quick (UMass) as the leader to start, with incumbent Ryan Miller (Michigan State) and Jimmy Howard (Maine) as strong candidates. Cory Schneider (Boston College) is also in the mix.
* It was fun to talk to media about the upcoming college season. NBC Sports had a big presence and is looking forward to its third year of college hockey. NHL Network leaders like E.J. Hradek and producer Joe Whelan are very plugged in to the college game. National media wants to see what Johnny Gaudreau can do next, and who will be the next Dan DeKeyser. Washington media is excited to follow Miami's Riley Barber, among other Caps prospects in the college game.
* It's amazing to see the difference in general tone around the sport less than a year removed from an NHL lockout. With a remarkable collection of talent in one place - spanning on-ice, front office or media people - and the mood was incredibly upbeat. It should be a great year.