In just a few short weeks, the 2014 Winter Olympics will begin in Sochi, Russia. There will be curling and Jamaican bobsledders and a less tomato-ey Shawn White, but mostly this marks the return of Olympic hockey. Last time around in Vancouver, Team USA made it to the gold-medal game on the back of goaltender Ryan Miller before falling to Sidney Crosby and the rest of the ridiculous collection of talent that is Team Canada. Any good patriot will find themselves in front of a screen to watch the Americans try to better that run this year. However, if your knowledge of USA hockey comes mostly courtesy of Miracle, then you will need at least a passing understanding of this year’s key players so you can call yourself a fan when the puck drops February 13th against Slovakia.
Let’s take a look at the men who play for the United States of America.
Ryan Miller (East Lansing, MI- Buffalo Sabres), Jonathan Quick (Milford, CN- Los Angeles Kings), Jimmy Howard (Syracuse, NY- Detroit Red Wings):
The backbone of the 2010 team, Miller, will again need to be excellent as a starter for Team USA. While he struggled last year, he has recovered this season to post a .927 save percentage, which should earn him the starting job. Quick, who took home the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012, might have been the starter had he not missed two months of play with a groin injury just before the tournament. He remains a more than capable backup who can lighten Miller’s workload when needed.
FORWARDS (with Projected Lines)
Patrick Kane (Buffalo, NY- Chicago Blackhawks), Ryan Kesler (Livonia, MI- Vancouver Canucks), Zach Parise (Minneapolis, MN-Minnesota Wild):
Kane is the most gifted playmaker on the team, and should spark the offense with his brilliant stickhandling and shooting. Oh, and if there is ever a shootout, prepare to be entertained. Kesler, the 2011 Selke Trophy winner for best defensive forward, will likely anchor the top line as center. Look for him to balance well with offensive specialist Kane while also making plays like this. Parise, another excellent two-way player, almost became the hero of 2010 when he scored to tie the gold medal game against Canada at 2-2 with 24 seconds left in regulation. However, Canada would go on to erase that effort in overtime with Sidney Crosby’s game-winner.
Phil Kessel (Madison, WI- Toronto Maple Leafs), Joe Pavelski (Plover, WI- San Jose Sharks), Blake Wheeler (Robbinsdale, MN- Winnipeg Jets):
Kessel is a fast skater with an even faster shot. He and Pavelski can create quick offense for the team. Wheeler, a power forward with enough skill to produce the occasional highlight goal, can add some muscle to an otherwise small line.
Dustin Brown (Ithaca, NY-Los Angeles Kings), David Backes (Minneapolis, MN-St. Louis Blues), Ryan Callahan (Rochester, NY-New York Rangers):
This line will play physical, presenting a matchup nightmare for smaller teams. All three skaters play shut-down defense, and Backes and Brown are imposing figures on the ice.
Max Pacioretty (New Canaan, CT- Montreal Canadiens), Paul Stastny (St. Louis, MO-Colorado Avalanche), James van Riemsdyk (Middletown, NJ-Toronto Maple Leafs:
The 4th line shows the depth on this team, as both Pacioretty and van Riemsdyk can make plays on offense. Stastny is a powerful center who can beat others with strength and skill while also disrupting opposing forwards in his own zone.
DEFENSEMEN (with Projected Pairings)
Ryan Suter (Madison, WI-Minnesota Wild), John Carlson (Colonia, NJ-Washington Capitals):
This tandem will face steep challenges against the top lines of offensive juggernauts such as Russia and Canada. Suter, the current NHL ice-time leader at 29:34 minutes a game, and Carlson should be ready for this. They will need to be rock solid for Team USA to have a chance against the top teams in this tournament.
Ryan McDonough (St. Paul, MN-New York Rangers), Kevin Shattenkirk (New Rochelle, NY-St. Louis Blues):
McDonough is a dominant defenseman capable of shutting down elite players. Shattenkirk can complement him with decent defending and solid offensive production.
Paul Martin (Elk River, MN-Pittsburgh Penguins), Justin Faulk (South St. Paul, MN-Carolina Hurricanes):
This pairing combines the veteran Martin with Faulk, the youngest player on the team at 21. Both are strong skaters who almost always make the right decision with the puck.
Dan Bylsma (Grand Haven, MI-Pittsburgh Penguins):
He may not be Herb Brooks, but Bylsma still knows how to give a locker room speech. Aside from that, he also won the 2009 Stanley Cup with the Penguins and the Jack Adams Trophy for most outstanding coach for the 2010-2011 season. Furthermore, Canada’s Sidney Crosby and Russia’s Evgeni Malkin, two of the best skaters the Americans will face, play for Bylsma in Pittsburgh. Watch to see if the coach can find a way to limit his own best weapons.