Sochi Preview: USMNT Looks To Go Down Long Golden Road of Dreams
The US finished in disappointing and sudden fashion in Vancouver. The face of Canada, Sidney Crosby, suddenly found a chink in the great wall Ryan Miller had seemingly built in front of his net, and the golden dreams of Zach Parise, Patrick Kane, David Backes, and company came to a crashing halt amidst a flash of red and white, and Canadian national pride. A lot of that group of players has returned to Sochi to avenge that loss, but they have an uphill battle. Group A is arguably the toughest, and their journey to gold goes through the home team, Alex Ovechkin and Russia. Here’s a quick peak at the roster and a look to the future.
There are few surprises on the front end for the US. There’s a little bit of everything here, and a great deal of passion. From the pure talent of Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, and Phil Kessel, to the grit, guts, and leadership of TJ Oshie, Ryan Callahan, David Backes, and Max Pacioretty, the US have a more well-rounded squad than the silver medal winning squad they sent to Vancouver in 2010
The one question that everyone asked was why Bobby Ryan was left off of this team. Honestly, I’m not sure Ryan should have been considered in the first place. Clearly, GMs David Poile and Ray Shero saw something in Ryan’s play. To be honest, he has done nothing since the decision was made to prove that he should have been taken, failing to impress many since the January 1st selection. Instead of going with a canned all-star team, Poile and Shero put together a roster that is filled with people playing a role. It’s as if US coaching legend Herb Brooks guided their hand a bit.
I’m still unsure of how Derek Stepan is going to fit in on this roster and get meaningful minutes, however. In contrast, New Jersey born James van Riemsdyk may get a chance to be on the 2nd line, and has proven that he should and that he has chemistry with Phil Kessel. One has to wonder how Paul Stastny feels, though. His father Peter, defected from what was then known as Czechoslovakia, leading the first of a flood of players from behind the iron curtain to emigrate to the US and play hockey here. Now returning to a land that was formerly part of the USSR, the communist power in Eastern Europe, while representing his father’s adopted country. There must be some mixed emotions.
All of these little stories make the US a very interesting band of brothers.
This is a bit of a different group than the one that went to Vancouver. This group is more balanced, it seems, than the silver medal corps in 2010. Look no further than the inclusion of Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk. These two specifically are great on both sides of the ice. They’re mobile, they can handle the puck and they’re solid defensively. This is where the US has improved the most, and what could be the difference in achieving the ever present shadow that Canada’s Sid Crosby cast with his golden goal last go around.
Arguably, Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, and Jimmy Howard make up the best trio of goaltenders in Sochi. Yes, that’s right. Better than the Canadians. The reason for this shocking revalation? Consistency.
Even with the lack of support in Buffalo, Miller has still been solid in net, and would be much higher in the stats column if his team could learn to play defense around him. Quick has fought through injury problems to return to form, and has taken his place back amongst the ranks of elite NHL goaltenders. Jimmy Howard has also fought through injuries, and has shown on his resume to be a clutch performer on big stages. If I had to pick a starter, it would be the veteran Miller. There’s no reason to go with anyone else, as he has played like the only thing he cares about is getting Olympic gold.
The one thing that is going to drive the US over the proverbial hump in Sochi is chemistry. It’s a definite gamble, but coach Dan Bylsma comes into his bench boss role playing with house money. Will the US be able to gel quick, or will this turn out to be a disaster? There’s no reason to believe that it won’t be Canada and the US fighting it out once again for the gold medal in Sochi.
From front to back, they have a more balanced roster than the majority of the teams that they face, including Russia, who they will have to beat to put themselves into a more favorable position coming out of the group stage. Some press have said that it will take another miracle for the US to win gold on this stage. All it will take is a little bit of hope, a pinch of karma, and a whole lot of chemistry. If Bylsma’s wizardry fails, the US may not even medal. My guess is that the US has its best chance for their own golden goal with THIS roster. Look for a deep run, and possibly something very special at the end of that road.
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