Saturday, January 2, 2010

Olympic Team USA Has Strong WCHA Flavor

The annual Winter Classic game (likely subject to a future Friday Rant) was played in Boston on New Year's Day and the unveiling of the USA Olympic Hockey roster coincided with the event. The team GM Brian Burke (Edina, MN) will take to Vancouver in February is young, inexperience, and questionable.

Only three players with previous Olympic experience were named to the roster: Jamie Langenbrunner (Cloquet, MN - 1998), Chris Drury (Trumbull, CT - 2002, 2006), and Brian Rafalski (Dearborn, MI - 2002, 2006), with Rafalski being the oldest at age 36. In fact, only five players were born in the decade of the 1970s: Langenbrunner, Drury, Rafalski, Tim Thomas (Flint, MI), and Ryan Malone (Pittsburgh, PA). With an average age of 26.7, team USA will be the youngest squad in Vancouver. Gone are the veterans like Mike Modano and Chris Chelios which dominated previous Olympic teams.

Coming off an eighth-place finish in the 2006 Torino games, the braintrust of the Olympic team felt this year's version needed to be different, and in that, they have succeeded.

A quick analysis of the roster shows some question marks on the blueline. Jack Johnson (Ann Arbor, MI) has been up-and-down in LA this season and Paul Martin (Elk River, MN) has missed significant time due to a broken forearm which required a second surgery last week. Whether or not he will even be ready for the games is debatable. If healthy, Martin would likely be in the US's top pair, but his injury situation clouds the picture. Ryan Suter (Madison, WI) and Rafalski are puck-movers, while Erik Johnson (Bloomington, MN), Mike Komisarek (West Islip, NY), and Brooks Orpik (Amherst, NY) are the stay-at-home types.

Up front, the forwards are very young. Zach Parise (Prior Lake, MN) is the big gun here, and Patrick Kane (Buffalo, NY), although the team's youngest player, is likely the most talented. Young stars like Phil Kessel (Madison, WI), Paul Stastny (St. Louis, MO), and Bobby Ryan (Cherry Hill, NJ) will also be interesting to watch. Burke elected to go big up front with guys like David Backes (Blaine, MN), Ryan Kesler (Livonia, MI), and Malone to grind things out. Ryan Callahan (Rochester, NY) is an interesting choice at center instead of a safer pick like Modano, Scott Gomez, and even Dustin Byfuglien. However, Burke and company wanted to go young.

In the nets, there are no question marks here. Ryan Miller (East Lansing, MI) will likely be the go-to guy, and Thomas will be solid behind him. Both are capable of standing on their heads. Youngster Jonathan Quick (Hamden, CT) will get some international experience and set himself up for future teams.

There are ten players on this roster with WCHA ties, broken down as follows:
  • Denver - Stastny
  • Minnesota - E. Johnson, Martin, Kessel
  • Minnesota State - Backes
  • North Dakota - Parise
  • St. Cloud State - Malone
  • Wisconsin - Rafalski, Suter, Pavelski
Here's how it breaks down among the states:
  • Connecticut (2) - Quick, Drury
  • Michigan (5) - Miller, Thomas, J. Johnson, Rafalski, Kesler
  • Minnesota (5) - E. Johnson, Martin, Backes, Langenbrunner, Parise
  • Missouri (1) - Stastny 
  • New Jersey (1) - Ryan 
  • New York (5) - Komisarek, Orpik, Brown, Callahan, Kane
  • Pennsylvania (1) - Malone
  • Wisconsin (3) - Suter, Kessel, Pavelski
The 2010 Vancouver Olympics will likely be one of transition for the US. The young players on this will be competitive in Vancouver. While the Canadians will be tough on their home ice, the pressure to win will be intense. The Czechs, Russians, Finns, and Swedes will also be loaded with talent. It's difficult to see a medal in the US's future when looking at this roster. However, in a single-elimination format like the medal round, a goaltender can steal games, and the US has two guys capable of doing just that.

Brian Burke deserves credit for sticking his neck out and selecting a team instead of an all-star team. However, it will like be another medal-less Olympics for the US.

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