DETROIT – This year’s two-week break in the NHL season is shaping up to be anything but that for a number of Detroit Red Wings.
On Monday, Team Canada announced that Wings coach Mike Babcock will once again lead its squad in the Winter Olympics, while Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser have all gotten an invite to the U.S. Olympic team’s orientation camp.
“It’s a huge honor anytime you can represent your country,” said Abdelkader, who will attend the two-game camp Aug. 23-24 in Arlington, Va. “You have pride every time you put that USA jersey on. To have an opportunity to make the Olympic team, this is a step in the right direction. I’m thrilled. Looking forward to getting down there and meeting the coaches, finding out what they expect.”
The NHL will break on Feb. 9 and return to play Feb. 26. The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia.
“Growing up you always dream of representing your country,” Abdelkader said. “There’s no greater feeling than putting on that USA jersey, the pride you have for your country. The Olympics are one of those things that brings the country together. It’s an honor to be out there.”
Team USA will select 25 players in late December from the pool of 48 players invited to camp.
Pavel Datsyuk was also one of 35 players invited to Russia’s orientation camp, Aug. 23-24 in Sochi.
Team Sweden could have the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Daniel Alfredsson, Johan Franzen and Jonathan Ericsson, while Jakub Kindl (Czech Republic) and Tomas Tatar (Slovakia) may also represent their respective countries.
“It would be an extraordinary opportunity to represent my country,” DeKeyser said. “It would be something I would definitely remember the rest of my life. Growing up as an American kid playing hockey you always watched Team USA playing in the Winter Olympics and you always hope for them to win. It’s some great hockey that’s played over there. You look at some of the names that have been invited to camp and that’s a pretty special group to be a part of and just to get a shot.”
Abdelkader and Howard both gained valuable international experience during the 2012 World Championships.
“They got to see me on the bigger ice surface, just getting that experience under your belt really helped me,” Abdelkader said. “I enjoyed (playing on the bigger ice), it gives you more time and space. The game is different but speed is a big part of my game.”
DeKeyser, 23, made quite the impression during his brief stint with the Wings after signing a free-agent deal right out of college.
“Sometimes my head is spinning a bit still,” DeKeyser said. “I’m just trying to stay focused, keep my head on straight and keep working hard. Everything that’s been going on over the past few months has been great. I know that I need to keep working hard to keep those opportunities coming.”
DeKeyser was lost in the midst of the Wings’ playoff run with a broken right thumb, but recovered in time to help lead the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Calder Cup.
He’ll compete with the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Cam Fowler, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Seth Jones, Nick Leddy, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter, Jacob Trouba and Keith Yandle to earn a spot on the team.
“For me, it’s trying to get out to a good start this season,” Abdelkader said. “They’ll be watching closely. Just play my game and let the rest take care of itself. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to represent the USA.”
Team USA has a number of talented forwards to choose from including, David Backes, Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie, Zach Parise, Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan, Brandon Saad, Paul Stastny, Derek Stepan and James van Riemsdyk.
“Hopefully I bring attributes that they’re looking for,” Abdelkader said. “Hopefully they see me as someone that can help them out.”
Howard will be competing for one of three spots between the pipes. Two of the netminders –
Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick – helped lead Team USA to the silver medal in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
Corey Schneider and Craig Anderson are the other two goalies invited to camp.
Babcock guided Team Canada to gold in 2010 in Vancouver.
“I am extremely proud to represent my country and coach Team Canada,” Babcock said in a statement. “To have had the opportunity to share the Olympics with family, friends and all Canadians in Vancouver was something very special. To win gold in Canada was a dream come true.”
Babcock will be assisted by Dallas’ Lindy Ruff, St. Louis’ Ken Hitchcock and Boston’s Claude Julien. Ken Holland will again be part of the management staff.
“In February, we will have a whole set of new challenges with a new group of players and staff,” Babcock said. “I am very excited to be working with Claude, Lindy, Ken, the management group, support staff and players to defend our Olympic gold medal.”