If the two Olympians who recently joined the Golden Eagles hockey team can make the same kind of impact as Olympic hero Ray LeBlanc did with another International Hockey League team last week, Salt Lake could be in for a successful late-season rush.
Last week LeBlanc, the most famous of the U.S. Olympians, joined the Indianpolis Ice, the IHL's worst team. The Ice promptly won four straight games with LeBlanc in goal and he was named IHL player of the week.The Eagle ex-Olympians are Kevin Dahl, one of the top defensemen for the silver-medal Canadian Olympic team and C.J. Young, who re-joined Salt Lake after starring for the U.S. Olympic team that went unbeaten in five games before losing its final two.
With the Eagles fighting to solidify their playoff position, the addition of Dahl and Young is most welcome news.
"They will add a new dimension to our team," said Eagle Coach Bob Francis. "Both players obviously possess a tremendous amount of skill and both read the game extremely well. There's no doubt that makes us a smarter and more skilled hockey team."
Young should be familiar to local fans, even without his Olympic exposure. Last year as a rookie out of Harvard, he ranked third on the club in scoring with 31 goals and 36 assists. Although he didn't play for 10 days after the end of the Olympics, Young is still in good shape after seven months of crisscrossing the country playing exhibitions and the two weeks in France.
"He didn't look out of place at all," said Francis after watching Young practice for two days. "We going to throw him right in there. He'll add to our chemistry up front right away."
Dahl has played in four Eagle games already and Francis is pleased with what he's seen.
"He's a very solid, dependable type back on defense," said Francis. "He knows how to play. He's very sound defensively."
Although both players had hoped that their Olympic experience and exposure might help them make the NHL upon their return, they aim to make the best of their time in Salt Lake.
"Anybody that's involved in the Olympics hopes (to make the NHL)," said Young. "I was hoping to get a look with Calgary, but I'm happy to come to Salt Lake with the great organization they have here."
"I had as much expectation as anyone to be playing in the NHL after the Olympics," said Dahl. "I want to prove to Calgary that I'm good enough to play for them at some point. Salt Lake is a nice play to play. It's a beautiful city with a beautiful rink."
In recalling his Olympic experience, Young said the final two losses to the Unified (Russian) team and Czechoslavakia put a little damper on the U.S. team's success.
"Things were really going well until (the Unified team) got that third goal (in a 5-2 win). That took a lot of wind out of our sails. Then it carried over to the bronze medal game."
Nevertheless, he'll still relish his experience. Young played on a line with ex-Eagle Tim Sweeney and Clark Donatelli. His best memory is of the first game against Italy when the Americans came back from a 3-2 deficit. "Our line played well and got three goals (with Young getting one) and that was kind of the kicker that got us going in the right direction."
He said he and his teammates had no idea how much the folks in their home country were behind them. "We were so isolated, it was hard for us to realize how much of an impact we were having back here. When we came back, we kind of realized it, but it was different because it was after the fact."
Young also knows that the noteriety he received as a member of the Olympic team may not be matched through the rest of his career even if he does make the NHL.
"The visibility you get with that is unbelieveable. It's the pinnacle of sports. It's something I'll cherish for a long time," he said.
Dahl is a little more unknown to local fans because not many of the Canadian team's games were televised. But he was a main cog on the team that lost to the Unified team in the gold-medal game.
His biggest highlight came against Germany in the quarterfinals when he scored the go-ahead goal with two and a half minutes left. The Germans tied it, but Canada won in the overtime shootout.
"I'll always remember the feeling we had on the bench in that game. We had worked too long and too hard and we knew we were going to win," he said.
Now the Eagles are hoping that winning spirit of the two Olympians carries over to their team. With 11 games left, the Eagles are nine points ahead of Phoenix and Indianapolis in the IHL standings. They need to beat out both teams to be assured of a playoff spot.
The Eagles left Thursday for a rigorous three-game trip in the Midwest that will feature games in Muskegon Friday night, Indianapolis Saturday night and Peoria Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, LeBlanc will be in the lineup for the Ice. After playing just one game for Chicago, he was sent back to Indianapolis. But at least the Eagles will have their two ex-Olympians on the ice also.