How Far Can Team USA Hockey Go at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver?

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How Far Can Team USA Hockey Go at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver?

It would be slightly concerning if I said, "As far as the boyish young man pictured above can take us," because Patrick Kane does look like he just got his driver's license in this photo.

Truthfully, much of the scoring burden will be on Kane's shoulders, as well as whoever else plays on the top line with him.

But in reality, the only way Team USA can medal is if they play an all-around team game, and thankfully, they were built that way.

Let's take a look at some possible line combinations and their roles:


FORWARDS

Line 1:

Paul Stastny (C), Zach Parise (LW), Patrick Kane (RW)

The obvious role for this line is one thing: Put the biscuit in the basket.

Teams representing the U.S. of years past have had a hard time with this, but this is perhaps the best pure goal-scoring top line America has ever assembled.

Each of these guys plays a specific style and is among the best in the world at that style.

Stastny has emerged as one of the best set-up men in the game. His vision is terrific, and his skating ability is good enough to keep up with any speedster he is lined up with.

Parise has a terrific all-around skill set when it comes to goal scoring. He can stick-handle around defenders, drive hard to the net, or snipe from the top of the circles. He also brings a much needed physical presence to this line and will no doubt be the guy going to the rough areas to pick up rebounds.

Patrick Kane is a bona-fide world class sniper. He will be given the green light to shoot whenever he can and for good reason. An added bonus is his ability to create space for himself by stickhandling around defenders. He should lead the team in shots on the tournament, as Stastny and Parise will be looking to set him up with regularity.


Line 2:

Joe Pavelski (C), Phil Kessel (LW), Bobby Ryan (RW)

Kessel and Ryan both play on the top lines of their respective clubs, and Pavelski plays behind some guy named Thornton for his team.

What this means is that the Americans will have a legitimate second scoring line as well as a first. This is essential so that the entirety of the scoring burden does not fall on the top line.

I expect whoever plays on the second line to chip in their fair share of offense for Team USA, and this help will be crucial.


Line 3:

Ryan Kesler (C), Ryan Malone (LW), Dustin Brown (RW)

The main fucntion that these forwards bring to Vancouver for Team USA is physicality, which is why they are put together on my third line.

Dustin Brown has either led the NHL in hits or been among the league leaders in hits for the past three seasons, and he is the smallest of these forwards at 6'0" 208 pounds. Kesler comes in at 6'2" 202 pounds, while Malone can bring the pain at 6'4 220 pounds.

The bonus from this group is that they can definitely add to the scoresheet with offense as well.

Brown is a former 30 goal scorer, Malone should surpass that mark this season (and has flirted with it for the past few years), and Kesler is on pace to eclipse 70 points this year.

This would be a terrific third line in that they can help out on offense, but more importantly, they are a high energy, hard hitting group that no opposing line would want to face.


Line 4:

Chris Drury (C), Jamie Langenbrunner (LW), David Backes (RW) / Ryan Callahan (RW)

As captain of this team, Langenbrunner does not belong on the fourth line, as he will assuredly get more like second line minutes. I just don't see where he fits in above this—the other players fit the roles needed for their respective lines.

Langenbrunner is more of an all-around player with great leadership qualities. He is the type of player you want in your locker room; the type of player you need on your bench.

The difference could be including him on the penalty kill line, as well as making sure he is on the ice during the final minutes while holding on to a lead.

As unsure as I am about Langenbrunner's placement on this line, I am pretty confident this will be where Drury and Backes stay.

Drury is far from the prime of his career, as you have all heard frequently by now, and Backes will be out there for one main purpose: bustin' heads. Callahan has had a great year in New York and is one of the tougher players in the NHL to play against.

All of these players have exhibited scoring ability in their careers and will not be held off the scoresheets either.


DEFENSE

First pair:

Brian Rafalski, Ryan Suter

These players are both legitimate top-pair defensemen in the NHL. Both can man the point on the power play as well as line up against top forwards, and rest assured they will be doing all of the above for Team USA.

Second pair:

Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson / Ryan Whitney

The Johnson & Johnson line is a lot less tender than it sounds. Both players have nice offensive upside while providing considerable toughness on defense. They are however still quite young, and their inexperience is really their only downfall.

Look for Whitney to be on call to replace whichever Johnson either gets hurt or slips up first.

Third pair:

Brooks Orpik, Tim Gleason

This is what I like to call the "Ryan Miller Insurance Line", as no opposing forwards will go near Team USA's bread and butter with these tough guys out there.

Chances are, however, that one of them could get moved up to the first or second lines to balance the toughness Team USA brings out on defense each shift.


GOALIES

Ryan Miller

Barring injury, Miller will start every game for the U.S. He is at the top of his game right now and routinely steals games for the Sabres.

Jonathan Quick

I predict that Quick has surpassed veteran Tim Thomas on the Team USA depth chart. With the exception of Monday's game in Anaheim, Quick has been nothing short of spectacular during the Kings' recent success, and currently leads the NHL with 34 wins.

Tim Thomas

Thomas has had a rough go this year after winning the Vezina last season with the emergence of Tuuka Rask and the struggles that the Bruins have had. He still brings an important veteran presence and could no doubt be relied upon should his number get called.


What needs to happen for Team USA to medal?

Realistically, I think a bronze is the best the U.S. can hope for, and even that would be no easy task.

The team would have to go 2-1 during round robin play, which I assume will happen anyway. While doing so, all lines would have to start clicking to the degree that they could be solidified before playoff rounds.

After pool play, the top four teams get a first round bye, and the remaining eight are seeded based on their performance in the round robin portion. Going 2-1 will put Team USA on the fence for the fourth seed, and they may lose it to either Finland or Czech Republic.

This may be a benefit, however, in that their next game would be against either the 11th or 12th ranked team in the first round of the playoffs. As long as they don't come out and lay a complete egg, they should easily move on to the quarterfinals against either the third or fourth ranked team.

This would most likely be one of the Finland or Czech teams. Ryan Miller would then be called upon to steal this game, getting the U.S. to the semi-finals.

At this point, even losing in the semis would put the U.S. in contention for a bronze. Whether they lose in the semi-finals or not, that game and the one to follow will easily be the toughest two games they will play.

If the team can create the right mix of chemistry, determination, perseverance, and even a little luck before the start of these two games, then anything can happen.

Do YOU believe in miracles?

 

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