January 01, 2010
Hopefully USA Hockey is better at building a roster than they are at spelling ... (Thanks to Tracy C. for what appears to be our first 2010 Olympic Jersey Foul.)
After the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway Park ended with a Boston Bruins' 2-1 OT victory against the Philadelphia Flyers -- an underwhelming game with a thrilling finish in a picturesque venue -- the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team for the Vancouver games was announced, with youth players wearing jerseys on the ice corresponding to the various Olympians.
It was a cute touch, but it's also symbolic of the roster Brian Burke has put together for the tournament: Young at important positions and inexperienced on an Olympic level nearly across the board. The team from USA Hockey:
David Backes(notes), St. Louis Blues; Dustin Brown(notes), Los Angeles Kings; Ryan Callahan(notes), New York Rangers; Chris Drury(notes), New York Rangers; Patrick Kane(notes), Chicago Blackhawks; Ryan Kesler(notes), Vancouver Canucks; Phil Kessel(notes), Toronto Maple Leafs; Jamie Langenbrunner(notes), New Jersey Devils; Ryan Malone(notes), Tampa Bay Lightning; Zach Parise(notes), New Jersey Devils; Joe Pavelski(notes), San Jose Sharks; Bobby Ryan(notes), Anaheim Ducks; Paul Stastny(notes), Colorado Avalanche.
Erik Johnson(notes), St. Louis Blues; Jack Johnson(notes), Los Angles Kings; Mike Komisarek(notes), Toronto Maple Leafs; Paul Martin(notes), New Jersey Devils; Brooks Orpik(notes), Pittsburgh Penguins; Brian Rafalski(notes), Detroit Red Wings; Ryan Suter(notes), Nashville Predators.
As we mentioned in our Team USA projections, many of these selections were predictable; there were only about four spots in play at the forward and defensive positions.
What do you think of Team USA?
Callahan was a bit of a surprise, although he was clearly in the mix since orientation camp in the summer. His versatility is an asset, and he's the sort of tenacious player that's catnip to Burke. Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson both making the cut was interesting; our money was on Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi(notes) snagging a spot, but Burke opted for two players that were molded and shaped in the USA Hockey development system.
Looking the roster, offensive depth is an immediate concern. Kane, Parise and Kessel at least put some scare in opponents; can the rest of the lineup provide enough goal-scoring? So is experience: Only Drury, Langenbrunner and Rafalski have been to the Games before.
It's a scrappy team, for sure. It's a defense that can skate the puck well, and Komisarek and Orpik on an NHL-sized ice surface can be effective shutdown defenders.
If the U.S. is going to challenge Canada, Russia or Sweden -- or medal, but let's not get ahead of ourselves -- this roster reinforces the notion that it'll take a four-line team effort, a heck of a coaching job and some outright thievery by Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas to succeed. Because it could be argued that the Team Canada's "B-team" is more dangerous up front than the U.S.'s A-team.
Yet as an American, there's something endearing about that reality.
This isn't an underdog, exactly; too much talent for that label. But it's a team that represents the here and now for USA Hockey, rather than reaching back for old flag-wavers like Mike Modano(notes) and Bill Guerin(notes). It's a gritty bunch, too blue collar for a guy like Scott Gomez(notes) to make the cut but perfect for a Callahan or a Brown.
They may not beat Canada. They may not medal. But looking at the collection of players charged with those tasks by Burke and the USA Hockey brain trust, one is confident they'll work their asses off in trying to accomplish both objectives.
Which is something this team shares with another one that wore the red, white and blue 30 years ago in the Olympics.