5 Players Who Will Need to Step Up For Team USA Hockey
NHL: 5 American Players Who Will Need to Step Up in Sochi Games
With US Olympic camp opening up this past week, its time we get nostalgic.
It wasn’t so long ago that Team USA captivated American audiences for the first time in since the Miracle on Ice in 1980. Playing in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics, it was just assumed that Team Canada was going to roll their way to a gold medal and send the hosting country into a frenzy. At the very least, the Russian team would be a formidable opponent, but that was about it.
However, an upstart American team, loaded with a great mix of young talent and savvy veterans, proved this wouldn’t be the case. Team USA stormed through the preliminary round, winning every game with a +9 goal differential. This included a 5-3 upset victory over mighty Team Canada.
Come the playoff rounds, the story didn’t change. The Americans shutout Switzerland, then obliterated Finland, setting the stage for an epic rematch with the Canadians.
Despite facing a 2-0 hole midway through the second period, Team USA eventually tied the game at 2-2 thanks to goals from Ryan Kessler and Zach Parise, the latter scoring with 25 seconds left in the game. However, the heroics weren’t enough, as Sidney Crosby put the dagger in the hearts of American fans when he slipped the puck past US goalie Ryan Miller in overtime.
As great as receiving silver medals was for Team USA, it was a sad end to a thrilling run. Since then, they’ve been prepping to try and redeem themselves when they head to Sochi next year for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
It won’t be easy, as Canada remains stacked. The American roster isn’t set yet, but there are more than a few players who should fully expect a spot on the team. If Team USA wants gold, they’ll need these five players to step up.
5. Jonathan Quick
There are many in the hockey world who are penciling in Quick as the odds-on favorite to start for Team USA this winter, and for good reason. A backup last time around, Quick has become one of the best goalies in the NHL, proven even more when he won a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012 with the Los Angeles Kings.
His GAA last season spiked a bit more than you’d like to see. However, in the playoffs he locked down the net once again. Ryan Miller showed in 2010 how important a goalie is to winning big on this stage. With Quick in net, the Americans can feel confident that they can make a big run.
4. Dustin Byfuglien
This is a wild card. With all the talent at camp right now, there’s a chance the Winnipeg Jets defenseman might not make the cut. He’s had a history of ballooning out of shape in the offseason, and his stats last year left a lot to be desired.
However, if he does make the team and finds that gear that brought him two straight 53-point seasons in 2010 and 2011, he can be a force. He’s got the size to be a physical presence, and can definitely put the puck in the net. With Byfuglien, though, it’s all mental, and that much will determine whether or not he makes the cut.
3. Ryan Suter
Arguably the best defenseman in camp this year, the Minnesota Wild blueliner will play a pivotal role for Team USA. He notched four assists in the 2010 games, not bad for his first Olympic appearance. Now that he’ll be coming back with experience, Suter will be expected to shine on defense.
He’s never been one to depend on for goals, but he can shut down offense with the best of them. He leveled off a bit at the beginning of his first season with Minnesota. However, he was able to steady his game enough to become a finalist for the Norris Trophy. He’ll need to carry that momentum with him to Sochi, where he’ll see some of the world’s best forwards on a constant basis.
2. Zach Parise
Along with retired vet Brian Rafalski, Parise was a consistent scoring presence during the Vancouver games. He tallied four goals and four assists across six games played, which includes the game-tying goal in the gold-medal game.
A former captain with the New Jersey Devils, Parise has shown leadership qualities in the past. He’ll no doubt be depended on as one of Team USA’s biggest leaders both on the ice and off this time around. That, plus his scoring touch makes Parise a big factor for the Americans.
1. Phil Kessel
Having high expectations to deal with is nothing new for Kessel. He’s had a high bar set for him ever since the Toronto Maple Leafs paid a fortune to trade for him with the Boston Bruins. The problem, however, is how he deals with said expectations.
He has the speed and shooting skills to be a true force for Team USA. But with Kessel, it’s all between the ears. He can score a hat trick and then vanish on ice in the span of two games. If he makes the team, the Americans will need him to somehow tap into whatever it is that can make him a consistent scoring threat. If he can pull that off, it’ll give Team USA a big edge.