Perhaps “Miracle” is your reference point.
The 2004 movie told the true and inspiring story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey squad: A group of young amateurs is brought together and built up over months by a fiery, rogue coach to the point it is able to upset a team of Cold War-era Russian pros and then ultimately win the gold medal.
Yeah … it doesn’t work quite that way these days.
The Pyeongchang Games are a month away. Most of the American team was announced on New Year’s Day. There have been no international tours, and certainly no vomit-inducing training sessions. For that matter, the players haven’t stepped on the ice even once as a unit.
“It’s all done over the phone, through messaging and everything,” said Bobby Butler, a Milwaukee Admirals forward who realized a childhood dream when he was selected.
“We’ll talk to the coaches, the assistant coaches here in the next few weeks and they’ll kind of tell us in the next few weeks what’s going to happen and how to prepare.
Butler, 30, is familiar with all of the other 22 names on U.S. roster so far — two goaltenders will be added — and knows five or six of the players personally.
The group includes 15 players with National Hockey League experience (including Butler, who has played 132 games with four teams), 15 who are skating this season in Europe, four collegians, three players from the American Hockey League (including Butler) and one past Olympian. The average age is a shade over 29.
Butler, a nine-year pro, will arrive in South Korea in time for the opening ceremony Feb. 9 and have all of four practices with his new teammates before the puck drops for the U.S.-Slovenia game Feb. 14.
“By the time we get going, you’re with each other all day,” Butler said after an Admirals practice last week. “You get to know each other fast. That’s the best way for a team to get going.
Butler, a native of Marlborough, Mass., and four-year player at the University of New Hampshire, had hoped to play for the United States in the Olympics but came of age in an era during which NHL players dominated the rosters.
He learned more about the Olympic experience from college teammate James van Riemsdyk, who went to Sochi in 2014 while a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then nine months ago, the NHL announced it would not participate in the Games.
After a two-season stint in Sweden and Russia, Butler returned to the U.S. for this season. Although an NHL contract could have brought Butler considerably more money, he signed an AHL deal with the Admirals to stay eligible for the Olympics.
Butler found out in late summer he was under consideration but — other than filling out paperwork and submitting to drug testing — tried to put the possibility out of his mind.
“If it happened, great, and if not, I was giving my best and I was lucky enough to have an opportunity here in Milwaukee and with the (Admirals’ NHL parent Nashville) Predators that gave me a chance to go to camp and then come here and be a part of the team,” said Butler, the Admirals’ top scorer. “I’m just thankful for that.”
USA Hockey general manager Jim Johannson, a former Admiral, called Butler on the morning of Dec. 28 to tell him he’d made the team, and Butler was able to share the news a few hours later in person with his father, who was visiting from Massachusetts.
“We hope that the team is successful and they come back with medals and he’s able to share that with everybody here, they’ll be able to see (in person) what actual medals look like,” Admirals president Jon Greenberg said.
“But to be able to have the pride and help him be able to celebrate what he does and do that with our fans, we’re trying to get some things going before he leaves here. Probably that Feb. 3 game is likely to be the game we do a lot with.”
Butler’s inclusion on Team USA may put a brief wrinkle in his relationship with his foreign-born Admirals teammates. Only six players on the roster are native to the United States, and the other 19 come from countries that also will have teams in the Olympics.
“I just hope for the best for him,” said forward Frederick Gaudreau, who has split time between the Admirals and Predators.
“I just want him to enjoy it and win if he can. But my heart is always Canadian.”
Then Gaudreau thought about the advantage of Butler playing for the U.S. to his foreign-born Admirals teammates who will watch the Games on TV:
“More chances to be happy at the end.”