USA Hockey Looking for More in Sochi
Four short years ago, the USA hockey team came within one goal of winning Olympic gold vs. Canada. Had it happened, on Canadian soil no less, I fear what would have happened to the city of Vancouver in the aftermath, considering the riots after the canucks won gold. Had they lost, well let’s just say it wouldn’t have been pretty.
Nothing means more to our neighbors to the north; Canada literally lives and dies with what happens with its national team in hockey.
USA won gold in 1980, appropriately dubbed a miracle on ice. It was the last time the United States won Olympic gold in men’s ice hockey. When the NHL players began playing in the games in 1998, Canada was considered the favorite to dominate the sport, considering they still produced over 60 percent of the players in the NHL in the late 90s. That number has dropped to just over 50 percent, while the United States has grown from approximately 15 percent in 1998 to about 25 percent today.
Not too shabby.
The truth – the U.S. has been a force to be reckoned with in international hockey for the last 20 years. They won silver in 2010 and 2002, as well as the World Cup of Hockey championship in 1996.
Can they make a run at gold in Sochi this year? There’s no reason why they can’t.
This squad is probably better than the 2010 lineup, especially when it comes to balance and overall depth.
Returning forwards from 2010 include Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler, Paul Stastny, Joe Pavelski, David Backes, Phil Kessel, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan. The two guys to keep an eye on are Kane, who is much more ready for this opportunity at age 25 than last time’s 21, and Kessel. The Maple Leafs forward is eons better than he was in 2010 and he gives the United States a true elite forward who can really make a difference. If the U.S. wins a medal, Kessel will be a big reason why. James van Riemsdyk and T.J. Oshie are two key newcomers to the forward lines. This group can score, and will need to on the power play to have a shot at a medal.
The defense is easily the biggest improvement from 2010. The group is deeper and more versatile than 2010. Ryan Suter and Brooks Orpik return, but adding talent like Cam Fowler, Ryan McDonagh, Paul Martin and John Carlson makes this group of defensemen much better than four years ago. The one big loss will be Brian Rafalski, who was one of the best blue-liners in Vancouver in 2010.
The goalies on Team USA are solid, with Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick returning, and Jimmy Howard joining the fray. It will be interesting to see who gets the starting nod. Quick is the favorite, and is not far removed from winning the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012. But Miller is having a great season on a bad Buffalo Sabres team, and he was magnificent for the U.S. in Vancouver (94.6 save percentage), being named MVP of the Olympic tournament.
The bottom line – this 2014 group is clearly a better overall team than 2010. The question is, can they match what that team accomplished in winning a silver medal (or a gold)? The margin for error is razor-thin.
One thing is for sure – it will be worth watching to find out.