Among the many attractions the upcoming Winter Classic from Fenway Park will be the announcement of the 2010 Olympic roster for Team USA.
While fans are split on the idea of an Olympic break from the NHL schedule, and there is some dissent on whether a fan even wants his players to be involved, there is no denying the honor that comes with an Olympic invitation.
With that said, Team USA General Manager Brian Burke isn’t out to select the 23 best players, or even the 23 most deserving. He needs to find the 23 men who will give the Americans the best chance to be present for the medal ceremony—preferably in the middle of the podium.
To pull off such a mighty task, Burke will need to have a clear game plan. Although the strategy will not be publicized, it is probably safe to assume the Americans won’t be able to skate with the Russians or pound it out rolling four lines with the Canadians.
The Americans will need to win ugly, relying on special teams and goaltending if they want to leave Vancouver with more than memories.
In this article we’ll examine the best candidates for defensemen and goaltenders for the squad to play and win in this type of style and environment.
A hot goalie can beat anyone on a given day, and here are the three most likely candidates to get the opportunity to get hot at the right time.
1. Ryan Miller – BUF
Probably started the season as the second on the list, but with Thomas struggling at times and Miller’s hot start, he’s played himself into the No. 1 slot. If the Americans end up with a medal, the Buffalo goaltender will probably be the one to thank.
2. Tim Thomas - BOS
Despite his four shutouts, the Flint, Michigan product has had a disappointing season by most accounts. His 8-8-4 record shows how the defending Vezina winner has struggled. Also, he is only .500 in shootouts for his career with 19 wins and 19 losses. Since gold medals have been decided on shootouts in the past, this has to be a key part of the discussion.
Thomas may have started the season as the favorite, but is likely to see time only as the second goaltender in 2010.
3. Craig Anderson - COL
Anderson’s start to the 2009-10 season may be the most positive surprise for any goaltender in the league. Anderson was not present for the orientation camp, but this will probably not be held against him in the selection process as it might a skater. The 18-8-5 start will be hard to overlook for a seven year veteran.
To try to limit the pressure on these three American goaltenders, the U.S. squad will need a set of blueliners to keep players and rubber away from them, and to maintain pressure on the other end. This group will include some familiar faces, some new faces, and maybe a forgotten face along the way.
1. Brian Rafalski – DET
Rafalski has played in the Cup Finals five times and has lifted it three times. He has played professionally in Sweden and Finland, and understands the European game. He has played on the last two U.S. Olympic teams and there is no reason to believe this won’t be the third. Go ahead and write this pick in ink.
2. Erik Johnson – STL
The first overall pick in 2006 is playing the best hockey of his life. He already has 21 points on the year, and the Americans will want to get him as much international experience as possible. At 21 years of age, this will not be his last Olymipcs. Another very easy pick.
3. Rob Scuderi – LA
While not mentioned on many projected rosters, the roster would be incomplete without Rob Scuderi. A stay-at-home defensemen, Scuderi is at his best when you don’t notice him. If fans didn’t notice him anchoring the Penguin defense en route to a Stanley Cup last spring, they surely have lost track of him since his move to the West Coast.
You can bet that the Team USA brain trust didn’t overlook his contributions, and he will play a well defined role on the team. Expect to see Scuderi matched up (as well as international rules allow) against top forwards, and as a fixture when short-handed. Scuderi is also as good of a three-on-five defenseman as the NHL has seen in the last decade.
4. Ryan Suter – NSH
OK, we’ll get the obligaorty “Miracle on Ice” reference out of the way right now. Suter’s father, Bob, was a defenseman in Lake Placid in 1980. It would make a great story to have two generations of gold medal winners, but that’s not why Suter plays in Vancouver.
Suter will make this team based on merit, and the fact he logs the second most minutes among American born skaters in the NHL (behind only Ryan Whitney). He logs shorthanded minutes, he logs powerplay minutes, and he logs even strength minutes—and most of those are highly productive.
He’s not on place to match his 45 point season from last year, but he contributes in enough ways to play for the Red, White, and Blue like his father thirty years ago.
5. Alex Goligoski - PIT
Although more Penguins fans probably expect teammate Brooks Orpik to represent the Penguin blueline along with Russian Sergei Gonchar, Goligoski might be working his way to being the Olympian. More of an offensive minded defenseman who isn’t uncomfortable in his own end, Goligoski could potentially quarterback the second powerplay unit, or play the opposite point.
The fact he did not attend the orientation camp might keep him out. Although deserving, it might be a stretch for someone who was considered by many to be the best player in the AHL only a season ago.
6. Paul Martin – NJD
Martin is recovering from an arm injury which seems to be taking more time to heal than expected. If Martin is healthy, he belongs on the roster. If not, Brooks Orpik might jump into the last position.
Martin is the type of defensemen the U.S. needs. He isn’t flashy, but opposing teams don’t score goals when he is on the ice. He is at least a +20 each of the last two seasons logging impressive minutes at even strength and on the powerplay.
7. Ryan Whitney – ANH
What a difference a change of scenery can make. Unable to break out in Pittsburgh despite flashing some potential, Whitney has been comfortable in Anaheim and is showing his offensive prowess with 18 assists thus far. His play at his own end has improved enough to give him the last blueline position. No American born NHL player has spent more minutes on the ice thus far in the 2009-10 season, so it’s unlikely he’ll get a rest in February.