Much like Team Canada, the USA has been holding an informal get-together this week with it’s Olympic hopefuls for the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia. And while the Americans are saying all the right things about going for gold, it remains a tough task. After all, team USA hasn’t won a gold medal since the NHL started sending professionals to the Games in 1998, and in fact you would have to go back to the Lake Placid Games in 1980 to find when the Americans last took home one of the most prestigious tournaments in all of hockey. Looking at their performance at the IIHF World Championships is even worse, as USA only had two gold medals to their credit in history, the last coming in 1960.
Needless to say, the country has not done well at major professional tournaments of late, a trend that the players and management hope to reverse in Sochi. The country has been very good at the World Junior Championships though, winning gold in 2010 and again in 2013. Perhaps then, it’s no surprise that the Americans are once again skewing for a young squad in the Olympics.
Back in 2010, the Americans were considered long-shots to win a medal; they had a very young team and were looking more towards giving their roster some experience with an eye towards the future than actually contending for gold. However through hard work and excellent goaltending, USA surprised with a silver medal. The hope is that next spring will bear the fruit of that labor, as many from the 2010 team return as older, wiser and better players than they were the first time around.
In goal, the Americans are spoiled for choice. Ryan Miller is the incumbent starter, and while he might have his ticket to Sochi already punched, he’s no longer the best American goalie. That honor befalls upon Jonathan Quick, the 2012 Conn Smythe trophy winner who is simply one of the best in the world. Should either falter, for whatever reason, Cory Schneider and Jimmy Howard are both more than capable of leading the team to gold. When it comes to competing with the best net-minders on the planet, team USA has nothing to worry about.
There is some concern on the back-end though, where there appears to be no locks to make the team outside of Ryan Suter and Keith Yandle. Without a bevy of top end talent, the Americans have chosen a very young group of players on their defense (Brooks Orpik is the grey-beard at 33 years old) in hope of infusing some new life into the blue-line. Going young worked for them before, and it may work again here. It’s worth nothing that many of these guys have won gold at recent World Junior Championships, and that international experience is sure to give them a leg up.
So while the goaltending should be excellent, and the defense adequate, it’ll be the forward group that makes it or breaks it for team USA. Again (and stop me if you’ve heard this before), they’re going young with the forwards. In fact, no American forward currently at the orientation camp is over 30 years old.
Gone are 2010 team captain Jamie Langenbrunner, Chris Drury and Ryan Malone to make way for the next generation of American stars. The offense will be lead by Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise and Bobby Ryan,all of whom won silver in Vancouver and should be that much better for the experience. With players like Ryan Kesler, David Backes, Dustin Brown and Ryan Callahan joining them, there will be no lacking for toughness and two-way ability to compliment that scoring either.
The question will be whether there is enough depth outside of those players. In a tournament like this, with teams such as Canada boasting a roster full of all-stars from top to bottom, the Americans are going to need those contributions from their third and fourth lines. Otherwise it’ll be another disappointing finish for team USA.
So, to get to the crux of this article; do the Americans have a chance at a medal in Sochi? Well surely there is no doubt that they do. While their top end talent is great, especially in goal and at forward, questions remain about their relative inexperience and their depth compared to other teams in the tournament. If, however, they can get the full support from those younger players, gold is certainly within reach. Only time will tell.
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