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Does Team USA Have What It Takes to Win Hockey Gold in Sochi?

Posted on December 03, 2013 by Scott Huntington

“Do you believe in Miracles?!” Better question: Can you believe the United States Men’s Ice Hockey Team hasn’t won gold in 33 years? After coming heartbreakingly close to pulling an even bigger upset over Team Canada in 2010, Team USA may have assembled the strongest roster since its Gold Medal Lake Placid team from 1980. GMs David Polle, Ray Shero and Director of Player Personnel Brian Burke have a huge talent pool to choose from this time around, and the names of the 48 invitees to orientation camp reflect not only the proven NHL talent that the United States has built up, but also the youth that USA Hockey’s development program has been fostering. The caliber of this talent pool is a testament to the progress that USA Hockey has made in creating a youth development program that rivals that of our Neighbor to the North. With well-respected Jack Adams winner Dan Bylsma behind the bench, Team USA has high expectations not only from fans, but from the international hockey community.USA hockey

GOALTENDERS

Perhaps one of the biggest assets to this squad are the men behind the mask. There has been a low whisper on internet forums and in pundit articles that maybe Ryan Miller doesn’t have what it takes to be the starter for the Americans in 2014 due to his mediocre numbers in Buffalo this season, but his performance against the LA Kings (and rival for Team USA’s starting role, Jonathan Quick) was stellar, and reminded everyone that even though his situation in Buffalo is miserable, there is no doubting Miller’s talent. Speaking of Quick, he could just as easily get pegged for the start, and one assumes that the two may share time between the pipes in Sochi. Other contenders for the spot include Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, Corey Schneider and last year’s IIHF Junior goalie John Gibson, which is a big nod to the kid’s skill and the strength of the American development program.

DEFENSE

In front of every good goaltender is a good defense, and the Americans have it in spades this time around. As one of the more physical teams in the tournament, Team USA will have to adapt their style for the bigger, more wide-open Olympic Ice, but it will still be a tight spot in front of the crease, and that’s where the grit of the American defense should shine. Final roster cuts haven’t been made, but we can assume punishing defenders like Ryan Suter, Jack Johnson, Brooks “Free Candy” Orpik  and Kevin Shattenkirk will be throwing their weight around in the US zone. 18 year old Seth Jones has merited an invite as well, and some project he may even have a shot to make the cut, as his play for Nashville this season has been one of the few impressive points on an unimpressive team.

OFFENSE

Canada, Russia and Sweden are known for their snipers and playmakers, but this new crop of American power forwards don’t just have grit, they’ve got some serious skills when it comes to putting the biscuit in the basket. Patrick Kane may have the softest hands in the NHL and is an absolute menace with the puck.

Patrick Kane, Niklas Backstrom

Phil Kessel has been on an unprecedented scoring streak, and with guys like Zach Parise and Ryan Kessler on the ice, Team USA could be a real contender for Gold. The Americans have the powerful guys too, in grinders like Brandon Saad, David Backes and Dustin Brown. With a solid backcheck to complement tenacious defense, it’ll be hard to score on this squad, and they have the muscle and skill to score on you. Sure, other nations may have the snipers, but Team USA has the grinders, and if any of the last few Stanley Cup winning teams have taught us anything, Grinders win games.

There are all kinds of factors that could change before the Olympics roll around. Canada has already seen one of its top forwards, Steven Stamkos, be lost to a severe leg injury. The NHL is a tough league, and all these guys play in it. It would not be inconceivable that one or more of them would get injured ahead of time, and you’re not going to score many goals from the rehab therapy pool. The depth of Team USA’s stable of players calms the fears of injury a bit, as the talent pool is very deep, and for any player that goes down, there are 5 more behind him to take his place. Playing on the large ice could throw this squad off its bearings a bit, but that shouldn’t be a major concern. All-in-all, this crew is just as good, if not better than the 2010 Silver medal winners. Does that make them a shoe-in for Gold? No, but they sure have a good shot at it.


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