From the start of Team USA's Olympic orientation camp in Washington D.C. on Monday, the mindset of accomplishing the goal that eluded the squad three years ago in Vancouver was established.
U.S. players' first meeting with coaches today began at 7:12 a.m. Time was symbolic - it will take 7 wins in 12 days to win gold in Sochi.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) August 26, 2013
"Being that close I think has added fuel to the fire to get one spot better and accomplish that ultimate goal," St. Louis Blues captain and 2010 Olympian David Backes recently told TSN.
The primary reason why anything less than a gold medal triumph would be a major disappointment for the United States is because the team that will travel to Sochi projects to be far better at almost every position than the 2010 silver medal-winning squad.
"We have 16 returning Olympians with a chance to make the team," said Team USA general manager David Poile on Monday (via NHL.com). "We have way more depth and way more quality than we had in 2010."
At forward, there are several veterans from 2010 expected to make the final roster for Sochi, including Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, David Backes, Ryan Callahan, Phil Kessel, Dustin Brown, Zach Parise, Bobby Ryan and reigning Conn Smythe trophy winner Patrick Kane.
Unlike the veteran core of forwards on the Vancouver team, which included Jamie Langenbrunner, Ryan Malone and Chris Drury, the players listed above are in the primes of their careers as elite NHL players. None of the other 11 countries that will compete in Sochi will bring a more balanced collection of forwards with offensive skill and defensive talent than the Americans.
Would anything less than a gold medal in Sochi be a failure for USA?
On the blue line, Team USA has a stable of highly skilled and mobile defensemen whose abilities make them a perfect fit for the larger Olympic-sized ice that will be used in Sochi.
Defensemen invited to the Olympic orientation camp who are expected to make the final 25-man team, such as Ryan Suter, Keith Yandle, Ryan McDonagh, Jack Johnson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brooks Orpik and Zach Bogosian, are all capable of helping the United States excel in any type of game at the Olympics, whether it's a high-scoring affair or a slower, more physical game that requires a strong defensive effort.
Between the pipes, Team USA will be among the strongest teams in the tournament. Los Angeles Kings star Jonathan Quick is the leading candidate for the starting job based on his phenomenal playoff performances over the last two years, highlighted by a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup title in 2011-12.
His backups, which project to be Detroit's Jimmy Howard and Buffalo's Ryan Miller, will give the Americans exceptional depth at the most important position on the ice. When a team has goaltending of this caliber, failing to reach the gold medal game would be a massive disappointment.
United States hockey has made a lot of progress since its lackluster eighth-place finish at the Turin Games in 2006. To avoid a setback and continue progressing, the goal and focus of the team have to be winning the gold medal at every Olympics.
Expectations have to be as high as possible.
"I really feel now that when the United States is entering any tournament that we expect to win," said Polie. "Last year, for example, in the 2012-13 hockey season the United States was the only country that [won a medal] at every tournament."
"As we go to Sochi, I don't think we're [an underdog], I think we're a team that believes it can win."
The days of being satisfied with qualifying for tournaments and giving a good effort are over. The United States has become a consistent contender at the world's most prestigious tournaments, which is why anything less than a gold medal in Sochi will represent a failure.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft.