Assessing Team USA’s Chances at Olympic Hockey Gold


It has been 30 years since the Miracle On Ice.

Since then a lot has changed.

The Cold War ended, hockey players from behind the Iron Curtain have come to America and earned millions playing for NHL teams, and Team USA is no longer the hockey underdog it was in 1980.

So, what are the chances this incarnation of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team can bring home the gold medal?

Well, given the format of this Olympic tournament, the draw shouldn’t be much of a factor. Every team in the Olympic hockey tournament will survive the preliminary round-robin.

Other than to allow teams that have never previously played together a chance to iron out kinks, the main purpose of the round robin is to establish seedings for the playoff rounds.

Whether a team, for example, ends up seeded first versus third, or fourth versus sixth will come down to a number of tiebreakers. So, it’s impossible to predict who will face who in the playoff rounds. No one has an obvious advantage.

Likewise, there isn’t much time for coaches to practice their players together in a system and mold a team into a cohesive unit.

All of the U.S. coaching candidates have proven themselves as motivators and communicators of pro players.

If Team USA falters, it’s doubtful that Peter Laviolette, John Tortorella, or anyone else will have been able to do significantly better than Ron Wilson.

The real key to Team USA’s fortunes must inescapably be found in its players.

Up front, the United States has a strong group. 

The mix includes proven leaders Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner. The team includes talented playmakers like Zach Parise, Paul Stastny, and Patrick Kane and goal scorers  Phil Kessel and Ryan Malone.

Also included are players who can get under opponents’ skin like David Backes, Ryan Kesler, and Ryan Callahan.

The U.S. can’t match the talent level of Team Canada’s forwards, but because of greater depth and versatility, this group is probably on par overall with the other main contenders, the Russians, Swedes, Czechs, and Finns.

Unfortunately, the defense is Team USA’s weakest link.

Jack and Erik Johnson, Tim Gleason, Ryan Whitney, Ryan Suter, Brian Rafalski, and Brooks Orpik make up the American blueline corps. That’s not a bad lineup for an NHL team, but not one of those players would have made the cut for rival Team Canada.

Last but not least comes the goaltender position—this is the real strength of Team USA.

With Ryan Miller, one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL this season manning the pipes, the U.S squad is in great hands.

Miller is a leader, a competitor, and a winner. One can only wonder how Team USA might have done with Miller instead of Rick DiPietro in net in Torino in 2006.

If Miller gets hurt or slumps, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins is waiting in the wings. A late bloomer, Thomas has been one of the NHL’s leaders in save percentage and other key stats for the last three years. He is capable of heating up like few other goaltenders in the world.

I believe Team USA has the hottest and strongest goaltending in the tournament.

What does all this add up to? Well, the fun of sports is watching to see what happens.

But with a deep crop of forwards and the best goaltending in the tournament, make no mistake, Team USA is a definite contender.

The single-game elimination format of the Olympics’ playoff rounds should work to the advantage of the American squad. 

Boasting two goaltenders capable of stealing a win even if the team is badly outplayed, Team USA as an underdog would be more like a shark in the water.

If Team USA does not medal, fans will have a right to question the lack of experience among GM Brian Burke’s selections.

Only two players on the roster have prior Olympic experience.

Veteran U.S. stars Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Mike Modano, and Scott Gomez were all left home.

The average age of Team USA is just 26.5-years-old.

Perhaps the plan was to lower expectations and pressure by leaving them home.

Meanwhile, the reality as any Buffalo Sabres or Boston Bruins fan knows, is that with its unquestionable goaltending prowess in Miller and Thomas, Team USA has a strong shot at gold.

Because of its weakness on defense and its scarcity of veteran leadership, expect Team USA to be outplayed at times by other top teams, particularly Canada. 

But, don’t count this American team out.

Impeccable goaltending and opportunistic scoring might well deliver the United States its first men’s hockey Olympic gold medal since the Miracle On Ice.

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