First Three Months of NHL Season Crucial For USA Hockey Olympic Hopefuls

Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va., will serve as base camp for USA Hockey over the next two days, as players, coaches and management prepare for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. 

Except for participating in youth practices, however, none of the 48 players who could potentially represent the United States in international competition will take to the ice during the orientation camp due to the exorbitant insurance costs needed to cover their contracts (the combined total of 47 contracts -- Rangers restricted free agent center Derek Stepan is currently unsigned -- is about $1.06 billion). 

Without the benefit of on-ice instruction, USA Hockey's brain trust will rely heavily on the first three months of the NHL season to evaluate which 25 players will ultimately make the roster, which will be announced around Jan. 1, according to general manager David Poile.

"There has to be a body of work that you look at when evaluating players," head coach Dan Bylsma said. "There's no trial, there's no on-the ice time here, there is a body of work from each player here. Having said that, the next three, four months is the key time to establish that. How you're playing for the three, four months will be important."

The group tasked with selecting Team USA for the Olympics in February includes Poile, associate general manager Ray Shero, director of player personnel Brian Burke and USA Hockey assistant executive director Jim Johannson. An advisory council of American NHL general managers, comprised of Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles), Stan Bowman (Chicago), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia), Dale Tallon (Florida) and Pittsburgh scout Don Waddell, will be responsible for scouting and grading players throughout the 2013 portion of the 2013-14 season. 

Every game between October and December will serve as an audition. While most players said Monday that their primary focus will be on helping their respective NHL clubs, others admitted that impressing the USA Hockey management team will be on their minds as well. 

"You've got a job to go do with your team, but it will always be there knowing that if you had a bad night, you're like, 'Oh boy, you've got to turn it around quickly because you're going to run out of opportunities to make it,' " Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien said. "You've got to make every chance count."  

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