On a team loaded with talent, Dan Bylsma is focusing on the team’s ability to put in work.
“We have a blue-collar mentality,” the U.S. Olympic head coach said on Tuesday. “That is where our strength is at.”
It’s not surprising that Bylsma, a bottom-six grinder during his nine-year playing career, is embracing his team’s workmanlike characteristics. The style served the U.S. well in Vancouver four years ago, allowing six goals in five games en route to the gold medal game, three coming in a win over Canada in the preliminary stage.
While Ryan Miller took home most of the accolades for that defensive effort, others contributed with a decidedly lunch-bucket approach. Veteran forward Chris Drury killed penalties and blocked shots with aplomb. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner also turned in a gritty performance, as did the likes of Ryan Kesler and David Backes.
Four years later, the American team displays similar characteristics.
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan seems primed to fill the Drury mold, even though he plays wing instead of center. A heart-and-soul guy, Callahan was a bit player in Vancouver but should have a more significant role this time around, thanks to his ability to block shots (he led all NHL forwards with 66 during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign) and play the body. Callahan acknowledged he’ll probably be asked to kill penalties in Sochi, one of his prime responsibilities with the Blueshirts.
“I’m guessing I’ll be doing that, yeah,” Callahan said, per the New York Daily News. “It’s always a big part of my game.”
Dustin Brown, a holdover from the ’10 team, is another that embodies the blue-collar approach with 187 hits this year, third-most in the NHL. Same goes for T.J. Oshie, tops among Blues forwards in blocked shots.
All these players seem to share similar traits — speed, tenacity and the ability to get nasty if need be. Bylsma said this was all part of the selection process.
“We looked at the strength of each player and we thought we would be a good skating team, a smart and intelligent team,” he said. Our group is toughest to play against.
“Look right down the line from the top to the last defenseman. We are tough.”