2010 Olympic Hockey: Team USA Hoping for Change

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2010 Olympic Hockey: Team USA Hoping for Change

With the 2010 Winter Olympics opening soon the United States men’s hockey team looks at Vancouver as a fresh start, a chance for redemption.  The 2006 Olympics in Torino were unkind to the Americans on the ice, as they finished a disappointing eighth just four years after claiming the silver in the 2002 Olympics held in Salt Lake City.

With the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brian Burke calling the shots, the Americans hope for better fortunes this time around.  Much like their neighbors to the north, the Americans hope to return to the medal podium when all is said and done.   They’ll have a tough task in front of them.

As I said before, remember that rosters are fluid at the moment and players can be swapped out up to 24 hours before the first games are played.  Team USA has already had to make changes.

TEAM USA OLYMPIC ROSTER

Between the Pipes

The Americans definitely are not as well stocked as the Canadians when it comes to goaltending.

The trio of Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick doesn’t necessarily bowl one over.  Only Thomas has international experience, and even that is limited.

He’s also 36 and has been in a slump lately (winning only one of his last nine starts) so I wouldn’t expect for him to be the number one choice for coach Ron Wilson in big games.

One also has to wonder how much Thomas’ head will be in the game, as there is speculation he is on the trade block and that Tuukka Rask will be handed the #1 job.

Miller is probably the de facto starter for the Americans.  However, even he has been on a rough stretch, after starting 11 consecutive games.  On the season he has started 48 of 57 games for the Sabres and is on pace to play in 70 games again.  One has to worry that with the Olympics Miller may burn himself out for the stretch run and be disappointing in the playoffs.

Quick is the youngest of the trio and he still needs seasoning.  This is only his second full season in the NHL and he just played his 100th career game.  By comparison, Martin Brodeur has 108 shutouts.  Numbers like that scream about the inexperience that the Americans have.

Quick has been solid and is a major factor in the Kings resurgence, but he’s not ready to be a focal point of this team.  He might see action in group play against a lesser team as a confidence booster, but don’t expect him in the medal round when it’s win or done.

On the Blueline

The Americans have been bitten by the injury bug on the blueline, forcing them to make a couple of replacements already before the Games even began.

Paul Martin and Mike Komisarek were selected for the team, but due to a broken arm and shoulder surgery respectively, both men are unable to compete for their country.

Those are two major blows to the depth for coach Ron Wilson and his defensive pairings.  It also forced Brian Burke to scramble to try and tab a couple replacements to fill those gaps.

Brian Rafalski is the veteran of the group, a grizzled veteran at 36.  This will be his third Olympic team, having played in 2002 and 2006.

He also was a member of the 2004 World Cup team.  He’ll need to be the anchor for a defense corps in which no other defenseman is older than 29.  It looks to be a challenging task given the depth on other countries’ teams.

Looking at the names on the roster there is no one that really strikes awe or fear in one’s heart.  There is a collection of good, but not great talent.  Ryan Suter is a solid defenseman, but he’s more comfortable in the defensive zone.  In fact, that is what can be said about most of the defensemen that Burke selected.

There is no real offensive threat, no power play specialist, no one that can jump in on an odd man rush to be a threat.  What Burke could have used was someone like Dan Boyle or a Sergei Gonchar to help out offensively.

Brooks Orpik, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Ryan Whitney and Tim Gleason round out the group.  Burke’s adage has been to build from the net out.  We saw him do it with the Anaheim Ducks when they won the Stanley Cup in 2007, and he’s doing it now with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The difference is that in the NHL you don’t have to face the best that a NATION has to offer.  In the NHL top players log between 20 and 25 minutes of ice time normally, while in the Olympics it can be a constant barrage of top flight talent for the entire sixty minutes.

Crashing the Net

In this scenario the Americans are much like the Canadians.  Only three of the forwards are over 30, while the other ten are all 25 and younger.

While there is talent in the mix, the team lacks the firepower to compete with the big teams in the tournament from top to bottom.

Jamie Langenbrunner is the old man of the forwards.  At age 34, this will be his second Olympic team.

He was a member of the 1998 team, along with the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.  He’s the captain of the team this year and is one of the few with any international experience to his credit.

Chris Drury is the second of the over 30 crew and he has plenty of international experience as well.  He has played on three World Championship teams. a World Cup of Hockey team, and this will be his third Olympic team.

He and Langenbrunner will have to be the calming influences on a team that may get jitters from playing for their country.  If they can’t keep the youngsters calm, cool and collected it could be bad news.

Ryan Malone is the third over 30 member of the forwards.  However, he lacks the experience that the other two have, and is only playing in his sixth NHL season.  He’ll have to be a factor to help take the pressure off the younger players on the team.

Players like Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane and Zach Parise are the big offensive threats, but they’ll need to play two way hockey in order for the Americans to survive.  They simply don’t have the luxury of being one dimensional.

Expect Dustin Brown, Ryan Callahan and Joe Pavelski to form as more of a checking/energy line.  Paul Stastny, David Backes, Ryan Kesler, and Bobby Ryan are also in the mix.

If Wilson wants to spread his experience around, I’d think that Drury, Malone and Langenbrunner would be on separate lines.  Such a strategy would give the top three lines a veteran presence to go with youth.

If it were me devising the lines, I’d go with something like this:

Kessel-Drury-Kane
Stastny-Parise-Langenbrunner
Malone-Ryan-Backes
Brown-Callahan-Pavelski

Rafalski-E. Johnson
Suter-Whitney
Gleason-J. Johnson

Medal Outlook

The Americans have their work cut out for them.  They finished 8th in 2006 after winning the silver in 2002.

The world has managed to cut into the talent gap that was once rather large.  Countries like Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic are extremely talented.

While they may not be as bad as they were in 2006 when they only finished in front of doormats Kazakhstan, Germany, Italy and Latvia, they may simply not be as good as they once were.

I expect that the Americans will improve on their finish from 2006 but I don’t see them reaching the podium this go round.  Sweden, Canada, Russia and the Czech Republic are all very good teams with plenty of experience in international play.  I predict that the Americans will make the medal round but out of the medals, finishing fifth.

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