BY: Tony Healey (@T_Loc11)
After walking away with the Silver medal in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Team USA and its fans were left feeling hopeful about the future and yet unsatisfied. Brian Burke shocked the world and American hockey fans by putting together a young team full of as many role players as All-Stars. That team went to the Gold medal game and lost in OT coming away with the Silver Medal. Now Team USA will be heading into Sochi with high exceptions because of those kids. With a team average age of 26 these kids are now the experienced core, with 14 returning players that should make the team, and will embrace the blue collar team philosophy.
David Poile will be the next GM of Team USA and can really leave his mark on USA hockey and this team. He is one of the longest tenured GM’s in the league, serving as GM for 30 consecutive years (15 Washington and 15 Nashville). He was the US National Teams GM for the ‘98 and ‘99 IIHF World Championship and was named to USA Hockey’s National Team Advisory Group in February 2007. In 2010 he was the Special Assistant GM to Brian Burke. Poile’s first major task was to choose a coach and Dan Bylsma is a great choice.
Dan Bylsma may not have any international coaching experience like Tortorella or Laviolette, but he is the Head Coach of Team USA. What Bylsma lacks in international experience he makes up for in managing the big personalities of an All-Star team on a regular basis. He also should be the most qualified coach in the NHL to game plan against the 2 best players in the NHL, Sidney Crosby and EvgeniMalkin.
USA has 5 candidates: Craig Anderson (Ott), Ryan Miller (Buf), Jimmy Howard (Det), Jonathan Quick (LA), and Cory Schneider (Van). This is the best crop of goaltenders from any country.
If the #1 goalie isn’t Jonathan Quick in Sochi it would be a huge shock. He has won a Stanley Cup and is one of, if not the best goaltender in the NHL right now. USA’s #2 goalie Jimmy Howard is a strong contender for back up duties mainly because he has posted career numbers the last 2 seasons. In the #3 slot I see Ryan Miller mainly for a veteran presence and leadership role. He did lead the team to the Silver medal in 2010, so that might give him the edge above Anderson and Schneider. No matter whom the #2 or #3 goalie is in Sochi they have little chance of beating out Quick for the #1 spot. What will really help out Quick is how deep the pool of defenseman is for team USA.
Team Stars and Stripes has 14 defenseman that should be considered: Ryan Suter (MIN), Brooks Orpik (PIT), Keith Yandle (PHX), Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), Ryan McDonagh (NYR), Zach Bogosian (WPG), Dustin Byfuglien (WPG), Paul Martin (PIT), Alex Goligoski (DAL), James Wisniewski (CLB), Jack Johnson (CLB), Erik Johnson (COL), John Carlson (WSH), Justin FaulK (CAR)
Pair #1 – LD Ryan Suter (6’ 1” 198lbs Shoots Left – MIN) RD Keith Yandle (6’ 1” 190lbs Shoots Left – PHX)
Ryan Suter is probably the most obvious choice as Team USA’s top defenseman. Suter will do whatever the team needs from playing the shutdown roll to quarterbacking the power play. Yandle has a booming one timer and is a great skater that has good instincts with the puck.
Pair #2 – LD Brooks Orpik (6’ 2” 219lbs Shoots Left – PIT) RD Kevin Shattenkirk (5’ 11” 207lbs Shoots Right – STL
Brooks Orpik is a big physical defenseman that is one of the most underrated shutdown players in the NHL. He is the top shot blocker and penalty killer that Team USA has on defense. Kevin Shattenkirk is on the smaller side but is very quick and plays one of the best transition games in the NHL.
Pair #3 – LD Ryan McDonagh (6’ 1” 213lbs Shoots Left – NYR) RD Zach Bogosian (6’ 3” 215lbs Shoots Right – WIN)
Ryan McDonagh can play physical, block shots, give timely offense, and play big minutes in every situation especially the penalty kill. Zach Bogosian is a big physical defenseman who plays an aggressive style and really likes to rush the puck.
7th Defenseman – Dustin Byfuglien (6’ 5” 265lbs Shoots Right – WIN)
Dustin may draw into the line-up as a defenseman or power forward. He is a very strong, versatile player that has a nasty side with the size to back it up. Having “Big Buff” on the team will give the coaching staff options and many different potential line-up combinations.
With the GM, Coaches, and Defense out of the way it’s on to the toughest part to predict, the offense. Team USA has good depth, not great like team Canada but good depth upfront.
The 21 possibilities are: Derek Stepan (NYR), Joe Pavelski (SJ), David Backes (STL), Alex Galchenyuk (MTL), Paul Stastny (COL), Brandon Dubinsky (CLB), Ryan Kesler (VAN), Max Pacioretty (MTL), Zach Parise (MIN), James Van Riesmsdyk (TOR), Brandon Saad (CHI), Patrick Kane (CHI), Phil Kessel (TOR), Blake Wheeler (WPG), Ryan Callahan (NYR), Bobby Ryan (ANA), Dustin Brown (LAK), Jason Pominville (MIN), Kyle Okposo (NYI), T.J. Oshie (STL), Drew Stafford (BUF)
Line #1 LW Bobby Ryan (6’ 0” 205lbs, Shoots Right – ANA) C Ryan Kesler (6’ 2” 202lbs Shoots Right – VAN) RW Patrick Kane (5’ 11″ 181lbs, Shoots Left – CHI)
Ryan Kesler is one of the best two way centers in the NHL and is a former Selke Trophy winner that is a do everything type of player. Bobby Ryan can play a gritty game and knows how to use his combination of size and speed to really give the opposition fits in all 3 zones. Patrick Kane is the most creative player with the puck and is one of only two natural scorers on Team USA. These 3 players lost the gold in Vancouver 2010 and are looking for redemption.
Line #2 LW Zach Parise (5’ 11” 190lbs Shoots Left – MIN) C David Backes (6’ 3” 221lbs Shoots Right – STL) RW Phil Kessel (6’ 0” 202lbs Shoots Right – TOR)
Zach Parise is the 2nd most offensively talented forward on this team and his play in the other 2 zones is very sound. David Backes is big and plays a punishing brand of hockey. He is almost an unmovable force in front of the net and strong defensively. Phil Kessel is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and one of its most dangerous snipers. This line has the ability to dominate all over the ice and is almost as talented as the 1st line.
Line #3 LW Max Pacioretty (6’ 2” 219lbs Shoots Left – MTL) C Joe Pavelski (5’ 11” 190lbs Shoots Right – SJ) RW Dustin Brown (6’ 0” 212lbs Shoots Right – LA)
Max is a power forward in every sense of the word; he has above average speed, good hands, a quick shot and a great work ethic. Joe Pavelski brings a solid 2 way game and is the best faceoff man the United States has. Dustin Brown can provide timely scoring, blocks shots, and hits like a Mac truck. This line should be able to score and really grind teams into a pulp.
Line #4 LW James Van Reimsdyk (6’ 3” 200lbs Shoots Left – TOR) C Paul Stastny (6’ 0” 205lbs Shoots Left – COL) RW Ryan Callahan (5’ 11” 190lbs Shoots Right – NYR)
James Van Reimsdyk (JVR) skates like the wind and does have size. Paul Stastny is known for playing a solid 2 way game and plays bigger than his stature would suggest. Ryan Callahan plays within his means and does all the little things really well and is one of the NHL’s best penalty killers.
Extra Forward Derek Stepan (6’ 0” 196lbs Shoots Right – NYR)
Derek Stepan will give the US team even more versatility because he can play all 3 offensive positions and play any roll needed.
This team is young but experienced with 14 players returning from the silver medal team in Vancouver 2010. That means while that average age is 26 years old they still have a ton of experience. Adding to the motivation to win is the revenge factor, with the stinging loss at the hands of team Canada in the gold medal game still fresh. It will be exciting to see how this group of tough rugged players come together to fulfill the exceptions of a gold medal.