- Pool Photo – USA TODAY Sports
The opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were almost a week ago and men’s hockey is getting started. What are the chances of Team USA taking home a medal? And what about a gold?
Odds-makers list the U.S. men’s hockey team as the fourth best team in the competition. Canada and Russia are co-favorites for gold, with Canada at just under 2-1 odds to win gold and Russia at just over 2-1 odds. With the home field advantage, Russia will be tough to beat.
Sweden is listed at 4.5-1 odds and the U.S. is next at 6-1. Thus, the U.S. is a slight underdog to medal. However, in a short competition, anything can happen — and there’s an outside chance at gold.
Some people have questioned the choice of the U.S. team to overlook potentially more talented NHL stars in favor of gritty, more defensive-minded players. Team USA passed on three of the top nine American NHL scoring stars and instead chose players like gritty Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler.
Although some are unhappy about the choice of seemingly less-skilled players, I like the strategy of going for two-way players, leadership and team chemistry. Many would agree that the Canadian and Russian teams are loaded with talent. It would be difficult to beat the two favorites at their own game — and skating with them in a high-scoring, offensive-minded affair. However, by going for a grittier style of play, there is more of a chance for an upset. In addition, Team USA is strong in terms of leadership, with eight players who are captains or co-captains of their respective NHL teams.
Some will argue that the larger rinks of Olympic hockey favor a more wide-open style of play. The extra real estate increases the advantage of speedy skaters and skilled players, but is even more reason to try to slow the game down with defense and checking. A few years ago, I wrote an article about the 1980 Miracle on Ice and reviewed some of Herb Brooks‘ sports psychology approaches.
In summary, Herb Brooks said, “I’m not looking for the best players… I’m looking for the right players.”