Montreal Canadiens’ forward Max Pacioretty admits he was nervous.
He heard the chatter, he read the analysis and he was well aware that his on-ice production would play a major role in the final decision of whether he made the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team.
“Obviously, I try not to think about it, but I’m only human,” he said. “When I had a bad game it would creep into my mind. I was obviously trying to impress them every game, and sometimes it might have affected my game, but as soon as I saw my name [on the U.S. roster], I took a deep breath, relaxed, and let my play do the talking, and I think that’s when I found results.”
Now Pacioretty, a native of New Canaan, Conn., has found new life after grabbing one of the final forward spots on the U.S. Olympic men’s ice hockey team, which opens 2014 Olympic play Thursday against Slovakia in Sochi, Russia.
“I think I was one of the later picks on the team, and I think that gives me a little more motivation to prove to people that I can contribute and help this team to win,” Pacioretty said. “Obviously, I wasn’t one of the most talked about guys from Team USA, but I think sometimes going under the radar like that is good motivation.”
Pacioretty will represent the U.S. in Olympic competition for the first time. He was part of the U.S. squad that finished fourth during the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, and he scored two goals and 12 points in eight games during the 2012 IIHF World Championship.
“I haven’t played as much [internationally] as some of the other guys who played in the development program, but every time you get an opportunity to put on that sweater, you want to try and win gold,” Pacioretty said. “I think, when it’s USA in particular, you really feel that pride. You see the steps USA Hockey has made in the past 10 years or so and it’s unbelievable. You just want to try and inspire kids to play and grow the game even more and I think you can do that by doing well in the Olympics.”
Pacioretty has an opportunity to have a first-hand influence on the program in Sochi. He made the team in large part because of his speed and well-rounded play away from the puck in addition to his knack for finding the back of the net. He’s also used to the larger international ice surface, having played in Switzerland during last year’s National Hockey League lockout in addition to the 2012 World Championship in Finland.
“I think if I can keep my feet moving, I can be effective over there,” Pacioretty said. “I think [the larger ice surface] suits my game well. I use my size and speed a little bit more on the big ice, and I hope to do that in Russia.”
Pacioretty struggled through October with a hamstring injury, but he has rebounded nicely with 26 goals — seven from his career-high — and 37 points in 50 games this season, more than enough to land Pacioretty a spot on the Team USA roster. It’s a dream come true for Pacioretty, but he realizes the real challenge begins this week.
“Obviously getting selected is a great feeling, but now the hard work comes in and I have to prove to people I belong on this team and can help them win,” Pacioretty said. “It’s something that in the back of my mind. I never really thought that this would be a reality, but once it got closer and closer, I realized it could become a reality, so it’s hard to describe how good of a feeling that is.”
Now, Pacioretty is cast alongside the best players in the world, a group that has rapidly gained more and more Americans in the last decade, putting the U.S. squad in prime position to compete for its first gold medal since the famous “Miracle on Ice” team in 1980.
“You see some of the guys that were left off the team, and it’s amazing that USA Hockey has come to a point where they’re able to leave a couple guys off the team like that,” Pacioretty said. “It seems like the best in the world, a lot of them are from the U.S. now, so it’s obviously an honor to be playing alongside guys like that.”
He is thrilled to be part of that group, a list that includes 13 Americans who won a silver medal during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Now, he wants to do his part to make history.
“There have been guys that have been there before and obviously have a little bit of history with Vancouver and have something to prove for this Olympics,” Pacioretty said. “You go there to win gold and that’s what everybody has in mind. There are a lot of good teams, but I feel we can compete with any of them. There’s a lot to prove and the guys are motivated. I know I’m motivated and ready to get going.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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Tag(s): 2014 - Sochi, Russia