February 11, 2009

2010 Olympic Preview: Team USA - The Next Generation

Although it is still very much a niche sport in the American sporting landscape, American hockey has made significant growth in hockey.

In 1976, Team USA had to choose from less than 80 registered players for the inaugural Canada Cup tournament.

By 1996 they sported a generation of stars that captured the reborn tournament, the World Cup of Hockey.

And now Americans make up 20% of the entire National Hockey League, second to only Canada.

Despite having many good players to choose from, Team USA will be looking for a new identity in 2010. Gone is the World Cup generation of stars like Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Brett Hull, John Leclair, Pat Lafontaine and Tony Amonte. And don't expect the hangers on to be named to the 2010 team for nostalgic reasons. Players like Chris Chelios, Doug Weight and Jeremy Roenick should not be back.

So who will be on Team USA 2010?

Goaltenders - Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller have to be considered locks, although one will have to establish himself as the number one guy.

An interesting wild card will be the seemingly always injured Rick DiPietro, once appointed as USA's goalie of the future. If he can return next season healthy and playing well, he could still figure in the mix.

Ty Conklin might get some token mention, but I expect Craig Anderson to not only be the UFA steal of the upcoming summer, but the third goalie on Team USA 2010.

Defense - Brian Rafalski is a guarantee and will anchor an otherwise young defense corps that lacks depth.

A likely inclusion will be Ryan Suter, son nephew of 1996 World Cup champion Gary Suter and son of 1980 Miracle On Ice Olympic gold medalist Bob Suter. He has the skills to be part of the power play.

Mike Komisarek's physical presence will make him a likely candidate for a shutdown role. Unheralded Paul Martin also should be part of this team.

It will be interesting to see if wunderkind Erik Johnson can rebound from a lost season due to injury and impress enough to be part of this team.

Otherwise the other two or three spots fall to the likes of John Michael Liles, Brooks Orpik, Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, Keith Ballard, Ron Hainsey, Joe Corvo and Matt Carle.

On the surface it appears Team USA's blue line is significantly weaker than Canada's. They certainly can not fill all seven spots with a #1 NHL rearguard, but they will be able to find players who are happy playing roles and filling holes. In a short tournament like the Olympics, this might work in Team USA's favor.

Forwards - The new faces of USA hockey will be Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Phil Kessel. All three are exciting players with game-breaking ability and speed.

Another top forward will be a Quebec-born Slovak/son of a NHL legend who calls America home, Paul Stastny. Scott Gomez's playmaking ability makes him a likely lock.

The Americans are quite small, and will need some big bodies. Pencil in Blake Wheeler, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Kesler, Peter Mueller and possibly David Backes.

Chris Drury will be a veteran presence on this team, likely leading a group of wily role players like Brian Rolston, Brandon Dubinsky, Dustin Brown, and Canadian born Jason Pominville.

Summary - The United States may be providing more NHL players than ever, but the top end talent is not, at this time, on par with other countries, Canada and Russia in particular. They will have a young, hard working, coachable team that has as good a shot as anyone in a short, crap shoot of a tournament like the Olympics.

1 comment:

Bacon077 said...

isn't Ryan Suter the nephew of Gary Suter?