7 Minnesota Wild Who Will Have a Major Impact on 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
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Nashville Predators general manager David Poile, the man tasked with putting together the U.S. men’s hockey team for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, recently called Zach Parise and Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild two of the top players in America.
“We had our fingers crossed that players like Ryan Suter and Zach Parise could … be the next great generation of U.S.A. players, and I think it’s happened,” Poile told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Ryan Suter should be our best defenseman and Zach Parise should be our best forward.”
(By the way, that first meeting between Poile and Suter has to be kinda awkward…).
It’s high praise for two franchise players in St. Paul.
Parise and Suter are not the only Wild players who will make an impact in Russia. According to Wild.com’s Mike Doyle, players Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom and Mikael Granlund have all been invited to an orientation camp for Team Finland, defenseman Jonas Brodin has been invited to Sweden’s camp and Nino Niederreiter is expected to represent Switzerland again.
All in all, there are seven players from the Wild who should make an impact in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Let’s start with Niederreiter.
Switzerland has not produced NHL stars like Sweden, Finland or even Germany. Big names from the country include defenseman Mark Streit of the Philadelphia Flyers and Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller.
Niederreiter is considered one of the best players from Switzerland and should get ample ice time. It is a chance for him to prove that he can play against some of the best players in the league.
He already has three years of professional hockey under his belt and will have played with Minnesota for quite some time at that point, but this is still a big opportunity for a player who now has significant questions about the trajectory of his career.
Brodin will have to fight for a spot on Sweden’s team, which is always stacked with NHL stars, but his performance last season alongside Suter should help his cause.
At age 20, the first big challenge of his career will be avoiding a sophomore slump. He is still a young player, and the best of the best adjust to a defenseman’s game after they have seen him a while.
Brodin will certainly be playing against elite competition in Russia, but he will also have the benefit of playing on one of the world’s strongest teams in the tournament.
This might be Backstrom’s last hurrah in the Olympics—if he even makes the team.
At age 35 he will be one of the older players at the orientation camp. Making the team is not going to be an easy task either. Miikka Kiprusoff, Kari Lehtonen, Pekka Rinne, Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask all hail from Finland.
According to QuaintHockey.com, Backstrom has played in more games than all of those goaltenders except Kiprusoff and Lehtonen, but he also has a higher goals against average than all but Lehtonen and is older than everyone except Kiprusoff.
If he makes the team, it will likely be his last Olympics. At age 39, the task of being a goaltender on a team full of Fins is going to be exponentially more difficult.
Minnesota’s captain should play a major role for Team Finland, but he will have to do so without Parise and Jason Pominville at his side. Parise will be playing for Team USA, of course, and Pominville is unlikely to participate in the Olympics after not being invited to Team Canada’s orientation camp.
Koivu could potentially be playing with Backstrom and Granlund, however, and while the former has been a teammate for quite some time, the latter may benefit from having more time with the player whose name is synonymous with Wild in the Twin Cities.
Koivu himself has little to prove, but it is yet another opportunity for him to showcase his abilities on a national stage.
This is a big one for Granny.
With more than half of the NHL season completed by the time the Olympics begin, the Wild will already have an idea of what Granlund will offer in his second season. However, if he is hot and cold once again next season, this is an opportunity for him to generate momentum for the home stretch.
Much is expected of Granlund, a player who Wild management feels will be a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come. He could generate a lot of hype around the hockey community if he shows up in Sochi.
Being the son of Bob Suter, a man who won a gold medal with the “Miracle on Ice” 1980 U.S. Men’s team that defeated the Russians, has to be daunting, but Ryan Suter has done just fine for himself.
He is expected to be an anchor along the blueline for Team U.S.A. and should get big minutes in key moments of the tournament. He will be playing with Parise once again, only this time as teammates, and has the opportunity to establish himself as the premier American defenseman in the world.
Among active U.S. born blueliners, only Tom Poti, John-Michael Liles and Joe Corvo have more points and games played, according to QuaintHockey.com. Poti and Corvo are past their primes, and Liles has a very, very French name, so Suter may already be the alpha male among American d-men—a strong performance at the Olympics would just confirm that.
While Suter may be the premier American defenseman in the game, he carries the stigma of being from Wisconsin. Nothing (and I mean nothing) can help him out there.
Parise, of course, hails from Minnesota—the greatest state in America!
Born in Minneapolis and likely baptized in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, Parise is fresh, clean and all that is man.
After scoring the tying goal in the Vancouver Olympics, Parise should be set to be Mr. Clutch once again. Like I said: he is all that is man!
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.