BY: Jeff Schneberk
Personally I thought the coolest Olympic team introduction for Team Sweden at the Winter Olympics in Russia was the form of introduction for the 22 men who will be representing the United States.
Perfect for me I guess because I am a Leafs fan and the introductions came after my team beat Detroit in their first-ever outdoor hockey game which was played at the University of Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day.
After getting by the Red Wings on Detroit’s ice, Leafs stars Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, who most of the time skate together on the same line for Toronto, had a few minutes after that shootout win that day to switch uniforms, from Toronto Maple Leafs to Team USA. That had to feel pretty damn good.
The days of the United States hoping to medal at a major international hockey tournament are gone.
The Leafs’ duo, who non coincidentally, are enjoying their most productive seasons in the pros. Both are looking at 30+ goal seasons, and when both healthy, they are a Toronto version of a Legion of Doom.
Sit back and enjoy this Team USA, I know LeafsNation definitely has.
If the Americans were unsure of medal possibilities at the start of this NHL season, they can almost place bets on one now.
David Backes, St. Louis, Dustin Brown, Los Angeles, Ryan Callahan, Rangers, John Carlson, Capitals, Justin Faulk, Anaheim, Cam Fowler, Anaheim, Patrick Kane, Chicago, Ryan Kesler, Vancouver, Martin, Ryan McDonough, Rangers, Ryan Miller, Buffalo, Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh, TJ Oshie, St. Louis, Max Pacioretty, Montreal, Zach Parise, Minnesota and just-named team captain, Joe Pavelski, San Jose, Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles, Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis, Paul Stastny, Colorado, Derek Stepan, Rangers, Ryan Suter, Minnesota, Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg, Jimmy Howard, Detroit and Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, Toronto.
BUILT TO LAST
The core of the 2014 Sochi Olympics squad will be comprised of guys who helped the United States within one goal of the gold medal four years ago in Vancouver. There is enough skill and depth to compete with Canada, Russia and Sweden, and firmly place the Americans among the top four teams in the tournament.
Two trips to Europe with NHL players on the big ice have produced forgettable results, but many of the young players on this projected squad have won youth tournaments on the wider ice surfaces.
There haven’t been many surprises in the first quarter of the NHL season, though as a collective group the goaltending performances have been underwhelming. That was expected to be the greatest strength for the Americans in Sochi.
The perceived weakness for the United States is at center, but David Backes, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski and Derek Stepan are all strong, two-way players. Backes in particular might be underrated at this point as an elite talent.
Zach Parise, Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel give the Americans three world-class wings. A line of Dustin Brown, Joe Pavelski and Ryan Callahan might be the toughest to play against in the tournament. Max Pacioretty offers nice depth on the wing.
First line possibilities:
Zach Parise, Left Wing: An elite two-way winger who provides high-level offence but competes just as aggressively in the defensive zone.
Ryan Kesler, Center: An exceptional two-way pivot who can play any style of game.
Patrick Kane, Right Wing: The most dynamic scorer on Team USA.
What’s Expected: This is a power-vs.-power unit, the line the coach turns to when he needs the opposition’s very best line to be outplayed.
For all of us Leafs fan, here may be the second line:
James van Riemsdyk, Left Wing: A big winger with good skating for his size and a nice offensive toolbox.
Joe Pavelski, Center: Versatile pivot who also regularly plays wing and adds a defensive conscience to whatever line he’s on.
Phil Kessel, Right Wing: An elite goal scorer who may be the best finisher on Team USA.
What’s Expected: Goals are expected. This line won’t get burned if caught out against the opposition’s top unit, but it’s best suited for offensive situations.
2010 results: lost gold medal game in overtime to Canada
2014 prediction: second in Group A (they will be right up there with Canada and Russia, one of the three should win the gold).