The United States men’s hockey team has been relatively successful in the Olympics, winning two gold medals, eight silvers and a bronze. However, Team USA had a 22-year wait between medals from the “Miracle On Ice” in 1980 to the silver in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and another eight-year interlude before notching another silver, when the U.S. almost upset Canada in overtime of the 2010 games in Vancouver.
Even though the odds at Bovada show that the Americans are fourth in line (6-1) behind Canada (2-1), Russia (12-5) and Sweden (4-1) to win this year, there’s plenty of reason to believe this team will be in contention for gold again at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Here are three reasons why the Americans could leave Sochi as champs of this tournament.
1. Plenty of Firepower Up Front
Team USA has three players ranked in the top 20 for NHL points. Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel are in the top five, while Joe Pavelski is tied for 14th. When it comes to goals, Kessel, Kane and Pavelski all rank in the top six.
Add in captain Zach Parise, Dustin Brown, David Backes, Max Pacioretty, T.J. Oshie and James van Riemsdyk (who plays on a line in Toronto with Kessel and likely will do so in Sochi), among others, and it’s quite evident that this team should be able to score at a healthy rate.
Even the blue liners like Kevin Shattenkirk (seventh), Ryan Suter (13th) and Ryan McDonagh (17th) are among the top scoring defensemen, although leaving Keith Yandle at home continues to be a debate. This team can score goals.
2. Incredible Goaltending
The Americans wouldn’t have made it to the gold medal game in Vancouver if not for the work of Ryan Miller, who ended up winning both MVP and Best Goaltender in 2010. Miller is still having a pretty good season for lowly Buffalo, ranking in the top five in save percentage. Although the Sabres are the worst team in the NHL, they might be even worse if not for the 33-year-old, who probably will be traded before the league deadline.
Miller probably will be the backup behind Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe in leading the Los Angeles Kings to a Stanley Cup in 2012. Quick backed up Miller in Vancouver, so he saw what the pressure is like, and Team USA knows it can rely on Miller if Quick stumbles.
The Americans have the best goaltending one-two punch in this tournament, especially with the issues Canada and Russia have in net.
3. Excellent Coach
Dan Bylsma takes over for Ron Wilson as the head coach for the Americans, and he is fortunate to have a host of players who are holdovers from the 2010 team. This squad already knows what it has to do.
Bylsma won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been a perennial contender ever since he took over. While many critics knock him because of the team’s wealth of talent with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and others, someone has to install a system for them to flourish. Bylsma has been that man, and he should be a perfect fit for figuring out how to effectively use a bunch of high-scoring stars on one team.
2014 Olympics Ice Hockey — Men’s Gold Medal Odds
Czech Republic 12-1