With the 2014 Sochi Olympics less than three months away, we’ve started to preview some of the top teams that will hit the ice to battle for gold come February. Yesterday, Rob took a look at Team Russia. Next up: Team USA.
The Americans took home a heartbreaking silver medal in Vancouver, losing in overtime to Canada. The last Olympic gold for the Yanks was 1980’s miracle on ice.
Round Robin Opponents
Team USA will be competing in pool A along with Russia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
While team USA boasts some high end talent up front in the form of Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, and Bobby Ryan – the strength of the American forward group will lie in its abundance of hard-nosed forwards willing to go to the dirty areas and wear down the opponent. Players like Ryan Kesler, David Backes, TJ Oshie, and Ryan Callahan should ensure the forward core of the team will not be outworked.
Zach Parise - Ryan Kesler - Patrick Kane
Phil Kessel - Joe Pavelski - Bobby Ryan
TJ Oshie - David Backes - Jason Pominville
Ryan Callahan – Derek Stepan - Dustin Brown
The Americans defence looks to be a solid group that may be stretched a bit thin should they encounter any injuries. Team USA will likely employ a minute eating first pair of Keith Yandle and Ryan Suter, both of whom can play in every situation. It remains to be seen if Dustin Byfuglien’s foot speed will see him left off the team, however, I believe paired with a smooth skater like Kevin Shattenkirk, Byfuglien will make it.
Keith Yandle – Ryan Suter
Dustin Byfuglien – Kevin Shattenkirk
James Wisniewski – Ryan McDonagh
Team USA is very good and very deep between the pipes. Leading the charge should be Jonathan Quick, but if his average start to the NHL season continues he could quickly find himself riding the pine in favour of Ryan Miller or Cory Schneider. Miller is an interesting play for team USA; he has been one of the only bright spots in Buffalo this season and will be extremely eager to get the net in Sochi, as it may represent the only meaningful hockey he sees all season. Schneider wins the third spot over Jimmy Howard and Craig Anderson so he can take in the Olympic experience, as he will be a leading candidate to be a top two guy for team USA if the NHL continues to send players to the Olympics after Sochi.
Most likely to get snubbed
If there’s an area where players deserving of a trip to the Olympics will be left at home for team USA, it’s in net. Craig Anderson and Jimmy Howard are both deserving of long looks, however both will ultimately get snubbed. Ben Bishop has been by far the best American goalie in the NHL to start the season, but has no track record which will keep him off the team. A pair of Pittsburgh d-men, Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, won’t be happy being left off the team. Up front, Kyle Okposo is making it extremely difficult to leave him off the team, posting 5 goals and 14 assists in 18 games to start the year. James VanRiemsdyk and Max Pacioretty will also be noticeable in their absence.
The Americans come into Russia with a very solid team that will not be outworked, and is full of players that will excel in several areas of the game. They will be one of the most physical teams in the tournament, and should have a top penalty kill. Their goaltending is also among the best in the tournament. The biggest question for team USA will be their strength up the middle. They have some good centres, but they don’t have elite centres like Canada, Russia or Sweden. I see another medal finish for team USA, but once again they will fall short of winning gold.
Other Roster Previews:
November 11: Russia
November 12: USA
November 13: Sweden
November 14: Czech Republic
November 18: Slovakia
November 19: Switzerland
November 20: Finland
November 21: Canada
November 26: Latvia
November 28: Austria
December 2: Norway
December 3: Slovenia