Ryan McDonagh can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
McDonagh, the standout defenseman for the New York Rangers, will represent the United States for the first time in his career during the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“It’s a huge honor,” the 24-year-old McDonagh said. “I could say that watching [the Olympics] in 2010, I started dreaming about it and thinking about what it would be like to have the opportunity to wear that jersey and play in the tournament on the biggest stage.
“Now I have that, and I really want to try to make the best of it.”
Long considered a lock to make the team, McDonagh still tried his hardest not to let talk of Olympic consideration distract him prior to the squad’s Jan. 1 announcement at the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, but the suspense always lingered.
“I think I did a pretty good job of not thinking about it too much,” McDonagh said. “A couple times we played in Nashville, and obviously the GM [David Poile, who serves the same with Team USA and the Predators] is there, so there’s a lot of talk then.
“You truly never know. You hear things, and things are said throughout the season, but to find out for certain … it’s something I’m pretty proud of and honored to be part of the team.”
McDonagh figures to be a key part of the U.S. team, too. The Saint Paul, Minn. native is the Rangers’ top defenseman, a unique blend of size and skill, who is charged with shutting down the opposition’s top line on a nightly basis.
He could provide a similar role in Sochi on a defensive corps that includes veterans Ryan Suter, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, in addition to fellow first-time Olympians Kevin Shattenkirk, Cam Fowler, John Carlson, and Justin Faulk.
“We really think that this group of players and this team could be great defensively,” said Dan Bylsma, coach of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team.
“We have some experienced guys that have been there before, but we also added some younger players. We think we’re going to be real sound and real good with the guys we have.”
The first thing that jumps out to McDonagh is the experience returning to the 2014 U.S. team, a squad that features 13 Americans who were part of the 2010 silver-medal-winning effort in Vancouver.
“I think it’s perfect. They had a good run with a similar group, so hopefully we can take the next step and accomplish the ultimate goal,” McDonagh said. “Myself, being my first Olympics, I’ll lean on them and try to pick their brains about what to expect, and hopefully we can succeed as a group.”
McDonagh will also have another opportunity to play alongside a close childhood friend on the biggest international stage. New York Rangers’ teammate Derek Stepan was considered to be on the cusp of making the Olympic team, but his worries were put to rest when the team was announced following the Winter Classic.
“I said before, when we were going through the process, it’s hard not to think about it, but at the same time you try your best to focus on what you have in front of you that night … to try and play those games, because that’s going to help you take steps towards the Olympic stage,” Stepan said.
“It’s a great honor. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be there or not, and it’s something that I’m very grateful for.”
McDonagh and Stepan were college teammates at the University of Wisconsin and played on the U.S. team at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in 2011. They also played against each other in high school, McDonagh starring at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul while Stepan played for two years at Hastings High School before moving to the prestigious Shattuck-Saint Mary’s prep school team.
“We’ve come a long way together, starting out playing against each other in high school in Minnesota and on the way to college,” McDonagh said. “Now, we’ll get to wear the USA jersey together. That’s a big stage and that will be real special for us.”
It also means a lot to McDonagh that he will get to share this experience with his teammate and longtime close friend.
“I think we were both pushing for each other, and I’m really happy that we’re both going to get this opportunity,” McDonagh said. “We were able to play at World Championships together, and now we’ll take it to the biggest stage, the Olympic stage, and hopefully come up with something special.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Long days, great games and high intensity – it’s tournament time. Gary Cutler is the USA Hockey supervisor of officials in Western New York. He’s officiated countless tournaments at both the local and national levels. Cutler sat down with USA Hockey to discuss teamwork, tournament-time preparation and what officials can do to be selected as postseason officials next season.
USA Hockey: What does your current position entail? What are some key responsibilities?
Gary Cutler: My current volunteer position as supervisor of officials entails many different responsibilities throughout the season. It all starts immediately after national tournament week, with organizing local seminars in the fall, participating in summer camps, and solving any registration issues an official might have. We are also identifying those officials that potentially can work in postseason tournaments, the Junior Officiating Development Program or a USA Hockey summer camp. We also communicate with leagues about rule changes or rule interpretations and solve any issues that arise during the year with officials.
USA Hockey: What do you like most?
Gary Cutler: The most enjoyable part of my position is seeing officials improve their officiating skills from their very first seminar they attended up to the level they are presently officiating at, whether it is getting a postseason assignment, working in the Junior Officiating Development Program, college assignments, international assignments, or even working in professional leagues.
USA Hockey: Tournament time. What is your initial reaction when you hear those two words?
Gary Cutler: Long days. Most postseason tournaments consist of 12- to 14-hour days of being at the rink observing officials and making sure the officiating side of the tournament runs as smooth as possible.
USA Hockey: What are some unexpected duties or responsibilities that come with tournaments that officials might overlook or forget?
Gary Cutler: Throughout the entire tournament, the officiating program is a team more than ever. Every official should be helping their teammates so everyone can do the best job they are capable of. A lot of officials have more than one rulebook in their referee bag. An official should have complete knowledge and understanding of the rulebook that they are using, whether it is a regular-season game or a postseason assignment.
USA Hockey: Do officials tend to feel more pressure during tournaments, especially semifinal or championship games? How should they cope with that and stay focused on the task at hand?
Gary Cutler: Most definitely a semifinal or championship game brings a lot more pressure on the officials that have been selected to work these games. The officials that do these types of games generally have these attributes that give them the opportunity to succeed?
USA Hockey: Can you feel the intensity ramp up during tournaments, from the players, coaches, parents, etc.?
Gary Cutler: When tournament time comes around, everyone’s intensity level is increased. As each day of the tournament passes, the intensity level grows until the conclusion of the championship game.
USA Hockey: What can young officials do to position themselves for consideration as officials for next year’s tournaments?
Gary Cutler: It all starts in the summer. Start a physical fitness program over the summer, so when the season comes around, you are in the best physical shape you can be in. Go to summer development camps. When you attend a seminar, come with a positive learning attitude. Officials have the opportunity to be identified as potential candidates for tournaments at these seminars. During the regular season, work hard at every game, for the entire game. Constantly look into the rulebook/casebook so you have a complete understanding of the rules. Improve your officiating skills every game. This can be done by reading your manuals and reviewing the videos on USA Hockey’s website. If you are evaluated, listen, take notes and implement what the evaluator discussed with you when you are officiating games. The moment you enter the arena, put yourself in the proper position to make the proper call.