“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” - Winston Churchill
And so it goes for USA Hockey. The United States will have their hands full when they arrive in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. The US has a bevy of young, hard working, skillful, yet inexperienced hockey talent; it says here the US will be tough to beat, but, when the chips are down, they are unlikely to have another “miracle on ice.”
The depth of talent is thin for the US, sure they will have great Goaltending, the defense will be “Ok”, but, for the most part, the forwards will struggle defensively and will need to work hard to eek out a win or two.
Being slotted in Canada’s division will not help their chances of making it to the Gold Medal game either. Case and point, let’s take a look at Team USA’s top four lines, you might be surprised at who makes the grade.
Phil Kessel- The reality is, this is it for Team USA, Phil Kessel is the leading candidate to be the number one centre. Kessel, while a decent enough player, cannot possibly intimidate the way a Sidney Crosby, Pavol Datsyuk, Joe Thornton, or Evgeni Malkin can.
Kessel will perform admirably, but in the end he might just be over his head against the top teams. Kessel has 24 goals, good enough for sixth amongst centers, I just worry about his defensive shortcomings.
Joe Pavelski- Pavelski will be counted on to put the puck in the net, it is a role he is very familiar with, seeing as he is the San Jose Sharks second option behind Joe Thornton. Pavelski should perform well, but he is a bit undersized, which may hamper him against the likes of Canada and Russia.
Scott Gomez- The fact the US will have to resort to slotting Gomez into the number three spot furthers my argument that they will have some difficulties competing with the other countries at this position.
Gomez is a decent enough player, but I would hardly call him “World class." He has struggled with the New York Rangers, he will need a big season in order to earn this spot.
Chris Drury- Drury is another guy who might just be a tad overmatched against the opposition as Team USA’s fourth line centre; can he possibly shut down the Worlds best?
Drury has 19 goals this season, he has been playing on the Rangers third line in more of a checking role, so I feel he may be the best guy to shut down the opposition. Drury, if nothing else, is consistent and he plays hard. Oh yeah, and the pickings are slim, so Drury it is!
Notable Absences- Mike Modano, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, RJ Umberger, Ryan Kessler.
Position: Left Wing
Zach Parise- The US will be weak down the middle, but the wings will be noticeably better. Zach Parise might just be the best kept secret in hockey, all he does is score and then score some more.
Parise, who should be selected as Captain of this team, could net 50 goals this season, something few NHL players are capable of doing. Look for Parise to log huge minutes, play in all situations, he is the States go-to guy.
Dustin Brown- Haven’t heard of this kid yet? That’s ok, he plays on the Los Angeles Kings, most of us are in bed when this guy is putting pucks in the net. Brown 23, is in his fourth year with the Kings, he has improved each season, and he’s has a chance at 35 goals this season.
Blake Wheeler- I Had this guy slotted in as the fifth best Right Winger, so there was no room for him there; I think he is better suited for this team than David Booth and Jason Blake, thus, I am slotting Wheeler in at Left Wing.
Wheeler has been amongst the top rated plus/minus players in the League, proving he is a responsible player who can play both ends of the rink. Wheeler will need to work on his checking game, but he should be more than adequate in this slot.
Ryan Malone- Malone will get plenty of Penalty Kill Minutes and will be relied upon to make the oppositions lives miserable. Malone is a character guy, capable of shutting down the Worlds best, he is a pain in the arse and that’s why he will be slotted into fourth line duty.
Notable Absences- David Booth, Jason Blake.
Position: Right Wing
Patrick Kane- Kane will be relied upon heavily for his offense. Kane has all the tools to be one of the best Right Wingers in the game. Look for Kane and Parise to give the opposition fits on the first line. That makes Team USA’s first line, Patrick Kane at right wing, Zach Parise at left wing and Phil Kessel at Centre.
Jaime Langenbrunner- Veteran presence, Stanley Cup Championships, and the ability to compete in any situation gives Langenbrunner the nod as Team USA’s second line centre. Langenbrunner has been an integral part of the New Jersey Devils success this season, I suspect he will be a key member of this team, seeing plenty of ice-time in every situation imaginable.
Team USA will feature a second line of, Jaime Langenbrunner at right wing, Dustin Brown at left wing and Joe Pavelski at Centre.
Bobby Ryan- This kid is just coming into his own, expect big things from Ryan, he is capable of becoming a 50 goal scorer someday, maybe as early as 2010.
Ryan will need to work on his checking, but his offensive prowess and energy will make him an indispensable part of this team. Team USA’s third line should be Bobby Ryan at right wing, Blake Wheeler at left wing and Scott Gomez at Centre
Brian Gionta- Ok, I gotta admit, slotting Gionta here just doesn’t make sense, but I couldn’t find a better player available, so, Gionta it is. Not known for his shut-down skills, Gionta will need to sacrifice if he wants this assignment.
Is he capable? Well, he does play for the New Jersey Devils, a notoriously defensively responsible team, so I suspect he will do just fine. Team USA’s fourth line will be, Brian Gionta at right wing, Ryan Malone at left wing and Chris Drury at Centre.
Noticeable absences- Drew Stafford, Bill Guerin, Brian Rolston.
Brian Rafalski- This wiley veteran will be counted on to log heavy minutes throughout the tournament. Rafalski has won a couple of Stanley Cups, can run the Power Play and will be the leader of this defense corps.
John-Michael Liles- Known for his offensive prowess, Liles will need to sharpen his defensive game if he wants to be part of the first unit. Should see plenty of Power Play time, he has a great shot, something every team needs.
Ryan Suter- Just like his Daddy before him, Suter is a fierce competitor, who just seems to get better every year. His physical presence will be needed, especially on the Penalty Kill.
Mike Komisarek- Another hard-nosed defenseman, capable of shutting the league's finest down. Komisarek still has a ways to go, my bet is he will be in Vancouver in 2010.
Keith Ballard- Steady, unheralded defenseman, most nights you hardly know he’s on the ice, that’s just the kind of D-Man teams like at this tournament, clean, capable, and competitive.
Joe Corvo- His value is not known to many teams, until he leaves your team that is. Just ask the Ottawa Senators if they miss his skating and puck moving abilities, darn right they do! Corvo will do well on the larger ice surface, where skating ability and speed will be at a premium.
Jack Johnson- Highly touted coming out of the draft, Johnson has been hampered by injuries for two straight seasons. If he gets a chance to play regularly he is likely to shine. Johnson has a mean streak, is highly competitive, plays bigger when he’s in the Red, White and Blue. My pick as USA’s seventh D-Man.
Notable Absences- Matt Hunwick, Keith Yandle, Ron Hainsey.
Tim Thomas- by now everyone knows Thomas. He is a little on the wild side, a very untraditional goaltender, who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Thomas has had a career year this season, an All-Star birth and having lead the Boston Bruins into first place in the Eastern Conference, should help give Thomas the nod as team USA’s number one goaltender. The only thing holding Thomas back is that he can be a bit of a “Hothead”, as long as he keeps it in check, he should be number one.
Ryan Miller- If Thomas falters, it will be Miller Time! Miller has had success as the Buffalo Sabres number one goalie, he is good with the puck, plays a more traditional game and is extremely competitive, all characteristics of a good goalie. Miller could end up number one, but, for my money, I like Thomas.
Rick DiPietro- Personally, I can’t stand this guy, but, when he is on his game he is tough to beat. DiPietro has had numerous injury troubles, limiting his playing time considerably. The other options are Scott Clemmensen, Ty Conklin and, to a lesser extent, Jonathan Quick.
There you have it, my take on Team USA’s 2010 Olympic Team. Look for this squad to be tough to beat, but make no mistake about it, they will be very beatable, especially at Centre. 2014 should be a better year for the States, this team is young, I suspect their inexperience will cost them at this tournament, but they should be exciting nonetheless.
Until next time,