BLAINE, Minn. -- The Turin Games left the U.S. women's hockey team with a bronze medal and a bitter taste. Who better to lead the push for a better Olympic experience than the relentlessly optimistic Julie Chu?
"She's just always looking out for your best interests, kind of pumping your tires on the bench or off the ice," said defenseman Angela Ruggiero. "We get to the airport and the bags are lost or whatever, and she's the player who's always like, 'Guys, we'll figure it out. It's no big deal.' She kind of just rolls with it."
The disappointment in 2006, marked by a stunning loss to Sweden, was "the bottom of the barrel for USA Hockey" in the words of forward Natalie Darwitz.
"I don't think we were ever a team that year," Darwitz said. "I think it was who could go out and score the most goals and get the most media attention. That was the No. 1 thing. Not everybody, but some players. I think this team is very different. I think you know who the leaders are."
That includes Chu, one of only six former Olympians picked Monday for the 23-player touring team that will tune up for the Vancouver Games throughout the fall and winter. Two more cuts will be made before the announcement in mid-December of the final Olympic roster.
Chanda Gunn, the goalie in Turin, was left off the touring team, as were her 2006 Olympic teammates Helen Resor and Sarah Parsons.
Coach Mark Johnson and USA Hockey chose from a pool of 41 players at this weekend's tryout camp in Blaine, where postgraduate players participated in a residency program over the past year.
Ruggiero, the former Harvard star who hails from Simi Valley, Calif., and forward Jenny Potter, of Edina, Minn., were the only three-time Olympians on the list. Darwitz (Eagan, Minn.) and Chu (Fairfield, Ct.) each played in the 2002 and 2006 games. Defensemen Caitlin Cahow (Branford, Ct.) and Molly Engstrom (Siren, Wis.) also went to Turin.
The touring team includes eight who played for Johnson at the University of Wisconsin: Engstrom, goalie Jessie Vetter (Cottage Grove, Wis.), defenseman Kerry Weiland (Palmer, Alaska) and forwards Meghan Duggan (Danvers, Mass.), Angie Keseley (St. Louis Park, Minn.), Hilary Knight (Hanover, N.H.), Erika Lawler (Fitchburg, Mass.) and Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej (Eagle River, Wis.).
Also on the list: goalies Brianne McLaughlin (Sheffield Village, Ohio) and Molly Schaus (Natick, Mass.); defenseman Kacey Bellamy (Westfield, Mass.), Lisa Chesson (Plainfield, Ill.) and Rachael Drazan (Orono, Minn.); and forwards Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux (twins from Grand Forks, N.D.), Gigi Marvin (Warroad, Minn.), Kelli Stack (Brooklyn Heights, Ohio) and Karen Thatcher (Blaine, Wash.).
Chu, who like Ruggiero won the Kazmaier award as the country's top women's college player, had five goals and five assists in five games on the front line in April to help lead the Americans to their second straight world championship.
Splitting time between forward and defense at same event in 2008, Chu noticed a difference in the team's makeup as the U.S. squad rallied from a loss to Finland to beat Canada twice for the gold.
"It was like a total abandonment of ourselves as individuals, and it completely turned to the team," Chu said. "We learned to celebrate the little things. If someone made a great chip out of the zone, the bench went nuts. If someone scored a goal, we went equally nuts about the same decibel. So I think that kind of showed what our team kind of started focusing on."
Johnson could use Chu at the blue line if he needed to, but with Ruggiero, Engstrom and Cahow there's plenty of experience there. The 27-year-old, who got her degree in psychology, is more useful now up front.
"She's got the capability to make that adjustment," Johnson said.
She also has the capability to motivate.
An annual summer conditioning ritual in Colorado Springs, Colo., involves a grueling hustle up Pike's Peak, and there is plenty of team-building done during that time.
"She's just one of the most positive persons I've ever met in life," Marvin said. "It's just such a joy to have that kind of person just constantly pushing you and encouraging you. ... There's no way you're going to not keep moving your feet with that encouragement in your ear."