Coming into the 2014 Sochi Games, a few skeptics were critical about how Brian Burke and David Poile assembled the US Men’s Hockey team. There were some notable snubs, including Ottawa Senators superstar Bobby Ryan, and it appeared the team was being built to focus more on grit than high-flying offense. Onlookers began to wonder, after America came so close to winning gold at the 2010 Vancouver games, if this was really the team that could finish the job this time around.
After wrapping up their final game of the qualifying round this morning, it’s certainly starting to look that way.
USA came into this weekend having opened their Olympic tournament with a 7-1 drubbing of Slovakia, but facing a Russian team many thought could bring home gold. In what proved to be the type of gritty game Burke and Poile may have built this team to withstand, the Americans prevailed, grinding out a 3-2 shootout victory. T.J. Oshie, after scoring four shootout goals, including the eventual winner, instantaneously became an American hero.
This morning, the momentum from the triumphant victory carried over, as America rolled Slovenia by the score of 5-1. Phil Kessel became the first American to score a hat trick in the Olympic tournament in more than a decade, while Slovenia could only manage to put 18 shots on goalie Ryan Miller.
But you won’t find anyone on the US roster who came to Sochi hoping to just put on a show in the qualifying round. The team is thirsty for the gold medal that eluded them four years ago, and they’ve spent the past few days showing the world they mean business.
The Americans now head into the elimination round poised to make a lot of noise. Not counting the shootout goal that gave the team a 3-2 edge over Russia, America has outscored their competition 14-4. They’ve looked equal parts skilled and tough through the majority of their opening matches, and need to seriously be considered as gold medal favorites.
The one-two tandem of Miller and Jonathan Quick, who started the first two games, has stood tall in net, while the defense continues to limit the amount of shots that get sent their way. Offensively, the US team has been playing fluidly from the get-go. The team has talked about redemption for the past four years, and are more than doing their part to show the world they can get to the top of the mountain.
Now, things get serious. The team will enter the elimination rounds, hoping that the good vibes from a dominating weekend, along with the pain they’ve been carrying since the heartbreaker in 2010, will fuel them to the country’s first gold medal since the 1980 Miracle on Ice.
If their play this week even remotely resembles the past three games, it’s a goal the team could very much achieve.