Biggest Injuries Impacting Team USA Ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2014

Biggest Injuries Impacting Team USA Ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics

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    Team USA unveiled its roster for the Sochi Winter Olympics following the 2014 Winter Classic. It's a lineup built specifically for the larger European ice surface, comprised of speed and two-way skills. There's also a good measure of Olympic experience, as half the roster (13 players) is comprised of members from the silver medal-winning 2010 squad.

    Despite Team USA's impressive overall depth, injuries could have an effect upon its overall effectiveness. Seven players selected to the roster are either currently sidelined or recently returned from serious injuries. The speed of their respective recoveries and any lingering effects upon their conditioning could have consequences when the puck drops in Sochi next month.

    Here's a list of those seven players who've been sidelined by injuries this season, their current status and the impact those injuries could have upon Team USA.

Jimmy Howard

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    The Injury: Grade One MCL sprain, left knee.


    Severity: Returned to action December 30.


    Its Impact: Howard was roughed up in his first game back from injury, a 6-4 loss to the Nashville Predators. He had a better effort (24 saves on 26 shots) during Detroit's 3-2 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2014 Winter Classic. It could take another couple of weeks until Howard fully regains his form. He should be up to speed in time for the Olympics, where he's expected to be Team USA's third-string goaltender behind Ryan Miller and Jonathan Quick.

Brooks Orpik

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    The Injury: Concussion.


    Severity: Returned to action December 27.


    Its Impact: Orpik suffered a concussion on December 7 when he was sucker-punched by Boston Bruins forward Shawn Thornton. The 33-year-old's return to action is good news for Team USA, as he will fill an important role as the team's shutdown defenseman. He is projected to be on the U.S.'s third defense pairing with Penguins teammate Paul Martin.

    Since returning to action, Orpik hasn't displayed any lingering effects from the concussion. Still, he has a lengthy injury history. Team USA's management will be hoping Orpik stays healthy leading up to the Olympics.

Ryan Callahan

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    The Injury: Sprained MCL, left knee.


    Severity: Returned to action January 3.


    Its Impact: Callahan suffered the injury on December 10 and made his return in a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 3. He's now sporting a brace on his left knee. The 28-year-old Rangers captain played for Team USA in 2010 and is among five players named to its leadership group. Callahan's experience, leadership and two-way skills make him a vital part of the American roster. His physical style also makes him prone to injury. He must remain healthy if he's to regain his form in time for Sochi.

Jonathan Quick

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    The injury: Grade Two groin strain.


    Severity: Recently taken off injured reserve.


    Its Impact: Quick suffered his injury during a November 12 game against the Buffalo Sabres. The Los Angeles Times' Helene Elliott reports he's close to returning to action. The 2012 NHL playoff MVP has a reputation as a clutch performer in big-game situations. That trait will be crucial for Team USA in its quest for Olympic gold. 

    Expect Team USA management to closely monitor Quick's play throughout January. He's expected to be fully recovered in time for Sochi. It's expected he'll jockey with Buffalo's Ryan Miller for the role of starting goaltender. 

David Backes

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    The Injury: Undisclosed upper-body injury.


    Severity: Day to day.


    Its Impact: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dan O'Neill reported Backes' injury wasn't concussion-related, though the club revealed no further details. The good news is that he is skating with his teammates and should soon return to action.

    With 30 points in 35 games, Backes is among the Blues' leading scorers. The 29-year-old Blues captain is also part of Team USA's leadership group. His versatility as a physical two-way center makes him an invaluable part of the lineup. The sooner he's playing again with the Blues, the quicker he will regain his conditioning in time for the Olympics.

Paul Martin

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    The Injury: Fractured tibia.


    Severity: Injured reserve.


    Its Impact: Martin suffered the injury on November 25 but didn't require surgery. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Rob Rossi reported Martin hasn't resumed skating and will be evaluated by team doctors soon. He must work on his conditioning upon his return if he's to be an effective part of the USA defense corps. It's expected he'll be paired with Penguins teammate Brooks Orpik, who recently returned from a concussion. Injury prevented him from playing for Team USA at the 2010 Olympics, but Martin expects to be healthy in time for the Sochi Games.

Zach Parise

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    The Injury: Left foot injury.


    Severity: Injured reserve


    Its Impact: The Wild have provided few details about Parise's injury. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Michael Russo cited sources claiming an MRI revealed the winger suffered a stress fracture in his left foot. That could sideline him for most of January, but he should return in time for the Olympics. Parise is part of Team USA's leadership group. His clutch scoring and two-way skills made him a key member of the 2010 Olympic silver medal-winning club. The recovery time from this injury could affect his conditioning, thus hampering his performance in Sochi.