Pressure off USA

By BOB MACKIN, QMI AGENCY

VANCOUVER -- Unrelenting, unremitting and glacial is how Brian Burke describes the pressure on Canada to win the gold medal in men's hockey at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The loquacious general manager of the United States' entry doesn't have any similar hyperbole up his sleeve to describe what his underdog squad faces.

"No one's talking about our ability to win here except us and that's fine with us," said Burke. "I can't imagine how they're going to function in this environment, but I'm sure they'll find a way. The pressure started building on Team Canada the day Vancouver got the bid."

The puck drops on the tournament Tuesday when the U.S. faces Switzerland. The U.S. also plays Norway Thursday and Canada on Feb. 21 to complete the preliminary round.

Burke said his team is, on average, five years younger than the squads entered in both Nagano and Turin, where the rosters relied on the veteran leadership of Chris Chelios, Mike Richter, Mike Modano and Brian Leetch.

"None of those guys are here and it was agonizing to turn that page and come here without any of them," Burke said. "Sometimes when you're young you don't know any better than to go all out."

The team is captained by 34-year-old New Jersey Devil Jamie Langenbrunner. Only Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, 35, and Detroit Red Wings defenceman Brian Rafalski, 36, are older. Chicago Blackhawk Patrick Kane, 21, is the youngest.

"Tomorrow we'll see each other and then we'll start building our team as quickly as we can to build that chemistry that is going to be so important," Langenbrunner said. "Chemistry is something that can be there. If you try to force it gives the reverse effect."

The Americans' have achieved their best Olympic hockey success on home ice, with gold medals in 1960 and 1980 and silvers in 1932 and 2002. When Canada hosted the Games in 1988, however, the U.S. was seventh in the eight-team tournament.

The great equalizer at Vancouver 2010 could be the use of the narrower National Hockey League ice. The International Ice Hockey Federation opted for the smaller surface as a cost-saving measure before the recession, when Vancouver Olympic organizers were faced with record high construction costs.

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