Four years ago, Team USA was rebuilding its entire hockey program. Few considered them as a favorite to win gold in the 2010 Olympics, let alone a medal of any color. Their general manager, Brian Burke, even acknowledged that the red, white and blue would be underdogs in Vancouver. We all know what happened next, but as we look ahead to Sochi 2014, Team USA is no longer considered an underdog. In fact, many believe they’re a legitimate gold medal favorite.
They’re currently listed at 6-1 to achieve Olympic glory and many will point to the international ice surface as the primary reason. This surface is slightly larger than the one Team USA dominated on the way to the gold medal game in 2010. The theory is that Americans aren’t accustomed to the international ice so they’ll struggle. And in fact, Team USA has won only three medals in the last 18 tournaments held on international ice. The solution? Americans must get faster and quicker, which is exactly what they’re doing.
Up front, Team USA is stacked with speed. The likes of Patrick Kane, Ryan Kesler and Zach Parise all have the ability to put any defenseman on their heels. Speed aside, their forwards have elite-level skill and are proven winners who’ve enjoyed tremendous success in the NHL.
On the back end, the Americans boast what should be their deepest defensive core in team history. It’s a talented mix of leaders, offensive skill and you guessed it, more speed. Ryan Suter and Keith Yandle lead the group and will provide valuable leadership and experience on a defensive squad that’ll be counted upon to shut down the world’s best players.
Speaking of which, Jonathan Quick leads a star-studded cast of goalies, which represents the best pool of netminders heading into Sochi. One of the biggest issues currently facing Team USA’s brass is who they’ll bring along for the ride, and it’s a nice problem to have. Of the six goalies invited to participate in the team’s orientation camp, five are No. 1 starters on their respective NHL teams and each of them could be a legitimate No. 1 for the Americans. Quick should head to Russia as the team’s designated backstop and rightfully so. He’s got the big-game experience and athleticism to help his team thrive on the international stage.
If he gets the nod, he’ll be called upon to man the crease on February 13 against 25-1 mid-range long shot, Team Slovakia. It’ll be a nice warm-up game for the Americans who’ll face Team Russia in their second game. Team USA may not be favored to beat the Russians or win the gold medal for that matter, but one thing is certain: The red, white and blue are underdogs no more.
Now they just need a new set of Team USA jerseys.