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U.S. Olympic hockey team might change its thinking in Sochi

Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane figures be part Team USA aganext year Sochi. | Bruce Bennett-Getty Images

Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane figures to be part of Team USA again next year in Sochi. | Bruce Bennett-Getty Images

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NEW YORK — Newly named U.S. general manager David Poile believes that the return of Olympic hockey to the larger European-size rink means the Americans have to expand their thinking on the team they should send to Sochi, Russia, next winter.

“A player who was successful in Vancouver in 2010 may not be successful in Sochi,” Poile said said at a news conference Saturday.

The Sochi Olympics will be played on the standard 200 by 100-foot international rink, meaning it will be 15 feet wider than the 2010 Vancouver rink.

“(In 2010) you heard Brian Burke talking about words like truculence,” Poile said. “I’m not trying to say that’s not important, but maybe it’s less important in 2014.”

The Penguins’ Dan Bylsma was introduced as the U.S. coach. His assistants haven’t been named.

Joining Poile on the management team will be associate general manager Ray Shero, the Pittsburgh Penguins GM who previously worked with Poile in Nashville, plus Anaheim Ducks consultant Burke, who was the GM for the silver medal team in 2010. He will be the director of player development in Sochi.

The NHL started allowing its players to participate in the Olympics in 1998. The Americans have won silver medals in both Olympics staged in North America, 2002 in Salt Lake City and 2010 in Vancouver. They didn’t earn a medal in the two Olympics on foreign soil, 1998 in Nagano and 2006 in Torino.

“We have not had a lot of luck in Europe,” Poile said, making it clear that figuring out why would be a point of emphasis for his new management team.

“It can’t be the same type of team,” he said.

Poile didn’t discuss specific players, but he said he expected there would be a large core group of players returning. That group would include Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, Ryan Suter and Jack Johnson, among others

Poile said he wouldn’t reach any final conclusions about how the team should be different for Sochi until he has met with his advisory group.

“I know everyone has a slightly different opinion and we have to mold them together,” Poile said.

One general theory is that teams need more speed on the wider ice because players have more space to make a move.

In 2010, Burke developed an advisory council to help him decide who should be on the team, and Poile will use the same approach. The advisors will include Dean Lombardi (Los Angeles Kings), Dale Tallon (Florida Panthers), Stan Bowman (Blackhawks), Paul Holmgren (Philadelphia Flyers) and Don Waddell (Pittsburgh).

One new wrinkle in the 2014 Games is an increased roster size. Teams will be allowed 22 skaters instead of the 20 in 2010.

That would allow the Americans, for example, to take a young skilled player such as Alex Galchenyuk, who could be inserted into the lineup to give the team an offensive boost. The Americans could also add a ninth defenseman with toughness, just to use in the expected physical game against Canada.

Bylsma has no international coaching experience but he has plenty of experience coaching high level players because his Penguins have Sidney Crosby and Malkin.

He joked that he does have inside knowledge on Crosby that could help the Americans.

“But I’m also a little bit concerned (Crosby) knows me as a coach, my strengths and my weaknesses. He’s going to bring that to the Canadian team,” Bylsma added.

One of the themes of the news conference was that the Americans believed they were going to Sochi to win the gold medal. Poile said it. Bylsma said it. USA Hockey president Ron DeGregorio called it an “expectation.”

Someone pointed out that Burke talked boldly in 2010, offering his assessment of the USA’s chances. Poile was asked whether he might provide some odds for American success.

“We can’t bet in hockey,” he said.

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